Oxford High School suspect detailed plans to kill in videos, journal, authorities say
Oxford — The 15-year-old charged in the killings of four of his Oxford High School classmates recorded videos on his cellphone the night before the shootings and wrote in a journal recovered in his backpack of plans to shoot and kill students, authorities said Wednesday.
A day before the shooting, school officials spoke with the suspect, Ethan Crumbley, over "concerning" classroom behavior and discussed the issue again with him and his parents in the hours before Tuesday's alleged rampage, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said.
Just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, Crumbley allegedly emerged from a school bathroom armed. Prosecutors said he then "methodically and deliberately" walked down a hallway before he began shooting at students and a teacher at close range. Bouchard said Crumbley's alleged targeting of students seemed random, based on video footage he and other investigators reviewed.
Four students died and seven people were injured. Bouchard said Crumbley fired 30 rounds from a Sig Sauer 9 mm semi-automatic pistol inside the school during the five-minute ordeal.
"Witnesses said he was tugging on doors. We know from visible evidence he shot through doors," Bouchard said.
Crumbley was arraigned as an adult Wednesday in a Rochester Hills courtroom, where he stood mute on the charges during a virtual hearing. 52nd District Court Judge Nancy Carniak entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Scott Kozak, an attorney who appeared on the defendant's behalf, only said: "My client is standing mute and we're asking the court to enter a not guilty plea."
Crumbley is being held without bond at the Oakland County Jail after he was transferred from Children's Village, a juvenile detention facility in Pontiac, following his arraignment. Kozak objected to the transfer, noting "these are all allegations, and he has not been found guilty."
In the aftermath of Tuesday's rampage, investigators found shattered shell casings, bloodstains in the hallway, classroom windows shattered and doors that had been shot through.
"It was horrific. As a police officer, you see terrible, terrible things," Bouchard said. "It's coldhearted. Absolutely brutal and coldhearted."
The school had no prior disciplinary or behavioral complaints involving Crumbley and there were no reports that he'd faced bullying, the sheriff added.
Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald charged Crumbley on Wednesday as an adult with one count of terrorism causing death, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He faces up to life in prison without parole.
There's "a mountain of digital evidence," said McDonald, including social media and video. She said her office is confident the shootings were "absolutely premeditated."
"This is unspeakable," she told reporters. "We send our kids to school and we think that they're going to be safe."
The terrorism charge, she added, was warranted not just for those who lost their lives and were wounded but for the students and families forever traumatized by the rampage.
"What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now who can't eat and can't sleep and can't imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school?" McDonald said.
"Those are victims too and so are their families and so is the community. The charge of terrorism reflects that."
The four students killed were Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17.
McDonald noted Juliana played volleyball and basketball, Baldwin was a talented artist and big sister, Myre was a junior football player and honor student, and Shilling a co-captain of the bowling team and a golfer.
The prosecutor on Wednesday asked for prayers for those still fighting to recover from the attack. She said charging Crumbley as an adult is "necessary" because of the seriousness of the alleged crimes to "achieve justice and protect the public."
Roughly 100 calls to 911 were made during the shooting. Teachers, students and staff took cover in classrooms and some jumped out of first-floor windows. Then police arrived, and Crumbley surrendered.
Investigators found three, 15-round clips at the scene, including one that was recovered from the gun with seven rounds remaining when Crumbley was arrested.
"We can’t wrap our head around the incredible, cold-blooded murder of kids," Bouchard said. "This was an evil act. And it appears to be random."
Suspect 'talked about shooting'
Lt. Tim Willis of Oakland County Sheriff’s Office told Carniak ahead of Wednesday's arraignment that the night before the shooting Crumbley "talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School."
Crumbley's cellphone, obtained by authorities with a warrant after searching his home on Tuesday night, depicted two separate videos made by him the night before the shooting in which he talked about his plans, Willis noted.
"Further, a journal was also recovered from Ethan's backpack detailing his desire to shoot up the school to include murdering students," Willis said.
Crumbley's social media accounts indicate he had access to a firearm and that he'd practiced with a Sig Sauer handgun, he said.
Willis told Carniak that the school security footage showed Crumbley exiting a bathroom in a hallway and "begin shooting at students and then proceed to shoot students who are actively fleeing."
Crumbley calmly told Carniak on Wednesday that he understood the 24 criminal charges against him.
Darla Finley of pretrial services told the court during the arraignment that the defendant had no prior juvenile record and no noted police contacts.
Marc Keast, an assistant prosecutor for Oakland County, noted during the hearing that a review of surveillance footage depicted Crumbley "methodically and deliberately" walking down the hallway, aiming at students and firing.
"What's depicted on that video, honestly judge, I don't think I have the words to describe how horrific that was," said Keast, who urged her to relocate Crumbley to the county jail to be held without bond.
After reviewing the defendant's social media accounts, his cellphone and other preliminary evidence, Keast said, "This defendant planned this shooting, he deliberately brought the handgun that day, with the intent to murder as many students as he could."
Defense attorneys noted Crumbley has been "cooperative" and that he'd been on suicide watch at the juvenile center.
Carniak noted Crumbley will be held in isolation at the county jail and won't be in contact with any other adult inmates.
During the video hearing, Crumbley was observed on the live feed seated at a large wooden desk wearing a green vest and a face mask. Crumbley's parents appeared together for the virtual proceeding but said little.
Crumbley's father, James, bought the gun Friday.
Crumbley's parents could also face charges in the shooting, McDonald added.
Michigan provides criminal liability for a parent of any child younger than 18 whose child violates a state firearm-related law while on school property or in a school vehicle, if the parent had custody of the child and knew the child would commit the violation or acted to further the violation, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Shortly we will confirm whether or not there will be further charges," McDonald said. "However, we know that owning a gun means securing it properly and locking it and keeping the ammunition separate and not allowing access to other individuals, particularly minors. We know that and we have to hold individuals accountable who don't do that."
'Hard to believe'
Oxford Township residents were still reeling Wednesday from the horrific tragedy at the high school, Oxford Village Police Chief Mike Solwold said.
“It is so hard to believe,” Solwold said. “Everyone knew those kids and their families, and it's difficult to absorb that now they’re gone. And others seriously injured.
“About all we can do is support one another and try to hug it out.”
This time of year, he said, the community is normally decking out their streets, homes and businesses for the holidays. While that is still happening, a damper has been put on normal festivities, Solwold said.
“Friday night is our traditional Soup & Sweets Stroll, where residents walk around the village stopping at businesses for a bite here and there, maybe some shopping, a tree lighting ceremony and then a parade on Saturday,” he said.
“But the business community has decided it's probably not the best time to celebrate those things. Besides many kids from the high school, likely some of the victims, worked at some of the businesses. And the parade featured the school band.”
Instead, Friday night will be a time of reflection with a candlelight vigil for the victims, he said.
“We are closing off M-24 through the village and (the vigil) is going to take place at the intersection of Burdick and Washington streets at 6:30 p.m.,” he said. “We are hoping for a large turnout to support one another.”
Solwold said his department had no prior contacts with Crumbley, nor were there any police runs to the teen's address in the village.
“There is nothing that would have made anyone suspect something like this would happen," he said.
Staff Writers Mike Martindale, Melissa Nann Burke and Robert Snell contributed