Tate Myre's parents sue Crumbleys, Oxford HS teachers, counselors

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Southfield — The parents of Tate Myre, one of four Oxford High School students slain in the Nov. 30 shooting, have sued alleged shooter Ethan Crumbley and his parents, along with six high school personnel, their attorney announced Thursday.

Three teachers were among the six school employees targeted in the 39-page lawsuit, which was filed by attorney Ven Johnson in Oakland County Circuit Court. It is the second civil suit stemming from the shooting, which also wounded seven people, including a teacher.

Attorney Ven Johnson announces a lawsuit on behalf of Oxford High School shooting victims against Oxford High School employees, accused shooter Ethan Crumbley and Ethan's parents. Jennifer and James Crumbley, as Buck Myre, father of Tate Myre, looks on during a news conference in Southfield on Thursday, January 27, 2022.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday morning, claims school officials were grossly negligent in their handling of the case, in violation of the Michigan Child Protection Law of 1975. The lawsuit seeks more than $25,000 but doesn't specify an amount that the plaintiffs are seeking.

“We don’t put large numbers down in a lawsuit to get your attention,” said Johnson, adding "there is no guarantee of any outcome in terms of money in this case. 

"Until we get to the bottom of this, these families can’t rest.”

All of the individuals named in the suit, Johnson argued during a 90-minute press conference, are "mandatory reporters" who were bound by law to call authorities when Ethan Crumbley's alleged disturbing behaviors surfaced — not just tell other school officials. And they all failed to do so, Johnson said.

“They deserve to be held accountable criminally and civilly," Johnson said. “When you violate the law and it leads to something horrible, you have to be held accountable.”

In addition to James and Jennifer Crumbley and their son, the suit names dean of students Nicholas Ejak, counselors Pam Fine and Shawn Hopkins and three unnamed teachers. Crumbley's parents are charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter connected to the shooting, while their son faces 24 criminal counts, including terrorism and first-degree murder.

"All they had to do is call 911, and they never did," Johnson said.

Oxford Community Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

But in an earlier $100 million federal civil litigation filed by attorney Geoffrey Fieger on behalf of sisters Riley Franz, a senior who was wounded in the shooting, and Bella Franz, a freshman who was next to her sister during the shooting, the district has argued civil lawsuits should be suspended until the trials of the Crumbleys have finished.

School officials "want justice for the victims and for the Oxford Community," district lawyer Timothy Mullins wrote in that case this week. "Given the broad reach of civil discovery, permitting this case to go forward would force Defendants to disclose sensitive information that is crucial to the criminal investigations and the resulting criminal proceedings."

In addition, the district last week issued "clarifying" details about events leading up to and on the day of the school shooting at Oxford High School to address rumors. Oxford Community Schools said officials were unaware of the suspect's social media presence or related posts until after the Nov. 30 incident.

In a post last week, Superintendent Tim Throne wrote the district will respond in detail to the "false allegations and reckless statements" made by Fieger but has been asked by the Oakland County prosecutor not to "unduly" comment.

In the latest lawsuit, the first unnamed teacher is described as the one who sent Ethan Crumbley to the office on Nov. 29, the day before the shooting, after allegedly seeing him search for ammunition on his phone.

The second is the teacher who sent Ethan to the office on Nov. 30 after allegedly discovering disturbing drawings he made on his math homework. 

"This drawing and these statements were clearly so violent and disturbing, were an obvious cry for help, and openly expressed (Ethan's) thoughts of violence against himself and/or others," the lawsuit reads.

The third teacher allegedly saw Ethan looking up "violent videos" on his phone, the suit claimed. 

Johnson said there is one major legal hurdle to the lawsuit: the interpretation of governmental immunity cases in Michigan, which requires a finding of gross negligence and that it was the factor in a problem.

If he were suing a private school, Johnson said, all he would have to prove is negligence, and that it was a factor. Johnson called this difference an "atrocity of Michigan law."

Johnson said governmental immunity is why he's not suing Oxford Community Schools as an institution.

"You can't sue the king unless the king says you can," he added. 

In addition to the Myres, the suit was joined by Chad and Meghan Gregory on behalf of their son, Keegan, 15. 

Keegan was in the bathroom with Justin Shilling when Shilling, 17, was fatally shot, and he ran past Tate Myre's body after escaping, Chad Gregory said. 

The Keegan family felt accountability was important enough to pursue, regardless of the timing. The Myres said they felt the same way.

“We’re not tone-deaf," Chad Gregory said. "This is a terrible time to do something like this. School went back this week.”

William "Buck" Myre said the family is "sad and heartbroken, our lives forever changed" by Tate's loss.

William Myre said filing a lawsuit was “really a tough decision for our family. Fully aware people will misperceive why we’re doing this. It’s about accountability. It would be a dishonor to Tate if we didn’t do this.”

"He was a Jan. 1 baby," said William, speaking through tears while sitting between his wife, Sheri, and his lawyer. 

He recounted several milestones Tate would miss, including his 17th birthday, graduation, his senior season of wrestling and "standing up" at his brothers' weddings someday.

"We're not doing good," Myre said. "We think about Tate every day. We sit in his room. We listen to his playlist on Spotify."

The family also announced that it is creating a foundation in Tate's name.

It will be named 42 Strong, Myre said, noting 42 was his son's number in football. Its primary goal will be to "provide peer-to-peer mentoring to kids."

The alleged shooter "was raising his hand," he said. "They refused to see that. This kid unfortunately had nowhere to go. And that's why Nov. 30 happened."

Johnson said that when Ethan Crumbley was called to the office on Nov. 30, he had left his backpack in math class. By the time the meeting with his parents ended, the class hour had changed, the lawyer said, but Crumbley's backpack was still in the math classroom.

Johnson alleges that counselor Shawn Hopkins retrieved the bag from the first classroom and gave it back to Crumbley.

“They not only didn’t stop Ethan, who was trying to be stopped," Johnson said. "They gave him the very backpack that contained the gun, without searching it.”

Oakland County Sheriff's officials haven't specified where Ethan Crumbley allegedly kept the gun in school.

The Gregorys said Keegan is a "long way" from getting back to school, or even having a normal teen existence again. Keegan spends his days watching the movies he enjoyed as a child, mother Meghan said. 

"It's crazy he is living this way," Meghan said.

His father described him as "ice cold" and said he couldn't be in a room full of people, like where the press conference was held at The Westin in Southfield, without "being afraid you were all going to shoot him."

Chad Gregory said Justin Shilling gave Keegan a word of advice that may have saved his life. Shilling, the older student, told Keegan that if there was any opportunity, he needed to escape.

Crumbley allegedly pointed to Justin, called him forward and shot him, Chad Gregory said. It was when the gun was pointed elsewhere that Keegan escaped into the hallway, he said.

The Gregorys have four other children, all younger than Keegan. Meghan Gregory said the oldest has asked to go to a private school, not Oxford.

But Meghan said she still believes "Oxford has a phenomenal program" and said she plans to reiterate that when the time is right.

The Myres and Gregorys are further joined in the lawsuit by Lauren Aliano, on behalf of daughters Sophia and Grace Kempen. The Kempens were not wounded in the shooting but were present for it. They did not attend the press conference.

William Myre said his family members still "love Oxford" and always will. 

"We’ve always had Oxford’s back," he said, "whether it's the teachers, coaches or the administration. The one time they needed to have our back, they didn’t."

He added: "But that is no reflection of Oxford High as a whole." 

Also on Thursday, Ethan Crumbley's defense team indicated it would pursue an insanity defense in a one-line filing in Oakland County Circuit Court.

Johnson said he doubted whether that would work. He cited the drawings, the attempts to cover up the drawings, along with months of social media activity before the shooting, including an Instagram post of his 9 mm Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun, two weeks prior to the shooting, with a message that read: "This is the gun I'm going to use."

"Notice, I haven't called him insane once," Johnson said. "He knew what he was doing."