No independent review of Oxford shooting until litigation over, board official says

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

An independent review of Michigan's deadliest school shooting at Oxford High School will not be conducted until criminal and civil litigation is over, Oxford school board president Tom Donnelly announced Tuesday.

Donnelly also said Oxford Community Schools will again decline an offer for a third-party review from Attorney General Dana Nessel of the Nov. 30 mass shooting that killed four students. Six students and a teacher were wounded.

"I know it's wanted. It's wanted by us as well," school board president Tom Donnelly said Tuesday of a review of the Nov. 30 mass shooting. "We still want to get it done."

"Given the nature and the breadth of the current criminal and civil proceedings, the review of the tragedy and associative events of Nov. 30, 2021, will not occur until the criminal and civil litigations are complete," Donnelly said Tuesday during a school board meeting. "Once the litigation process is completed and all information has risen to the surface, a team of experts will conduct a third-party review. Our subcommittee has begun the process of vetting.”

Donnelly said the Oakland County prosecutor and sheriff have information about the incident that the district does not have and does not know.

"It would be ill advised for us to start a third-party investigation if we don't know the facts."

After the shooting, the district told the community it would conduct a third-party review.

Donnelly acknowledged that many in the community have demanded that the district begin a review of what happened on Nov. 30 and what can be done to prevent it from recurring.

The Oxford High School Media Center is filled during a school board meeting Tuesday as the district updates the community following a mass shooting at the high school six months ago.

"I know it's wanted. It's wanted by us as well," Donnelly said. "We still want to get it done. We are not changing anything. We are evolving on how this should be accomplished. We are modifying it."

Donnelly said the district never defined the third-party process in December when it committed to undertaking one. He sees the review as having two key components: the Nov. 30 tragedy and the district’s three-year recovery plan, which is now under development by Superintendent Ken Weaver and his administration.

“We see this as several independent reviews, not one,” Donnelly said.

Ken Weaver

Lori Bourgeau, the parent of an Oxford High School student, said the district’s decision to delay the independent investigation until litigation has ended tells her everything she needs to know.

“We need protection from your poor judgment,” Bourgeau said. “You should all resign immediately and allow board members who have our students' safety and security as a top priority step in and take over because you are clearly concerned about you and not us.”

Several parents, including Steve St. Juliana, the father of Hana St. Juliana, one of four high school students killed in the rampage at Oxford High School, have said they are outraged no independent investigation has been conducted nearly six months after the shooting.

"I think that the board’s decision speaks volumes on its own as to it’s priorities," St. Juliana said.

Attorney General Dana Nessel offered to conduct an independent investigation into the events leading up to the shooting for the first time in December. The district declined. 

Oxford High School freshman Kaena Anderle of Oxford display a poster she made of the four students who were killed in the mass shooting: Hana St. Juliana, top, left; Justin Shilling, bottom left; Madisyn Baldwin, top right; and Tate Myre, bottom right.

Nessel offered again to conduct an investigation, the cost of which would be borne by her office. It would also not interfere with the criminal case against suspect Ethan Crumbley, she said. 

Last week a school board subcommittee created to consider third-party review candidates held two public meetings but has yet to formally recommend or present options to the full school board.

 According to meeting minutes, the subcommittee has held discussions with four companies: New York-based Guidepost Solutions, Safe Havens International in Georgia, Baltimore-based Jensen Hughes and ATAP Security in California. 

The board heard from school safety and security expert Jason Russell, who has been working with the district to develop strategies for the district to continue to improve the safety and security of its schools. Russell's company Secure Education Consultant is an expert in the field of emergency planning.

Russell told the board he has assessed thousands of districts across the nation. "This district is in the top and was in the top of this …That is the reality. There are things we can improve," Russell said.

Russell said he has added speakers for better communication, cameras and technology at schools to increase safety and is planning a pilot project of a weapons detector in the school later this year.

"It's what Disney uses. You don’t have to take everything out of your bag," he said.