Oxford board holds moment of silence after Texas school shooting; sheriff, gov react

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Oxford Community Schools officials held a moment of silence Tuesday for the victims of a mass shooting at a Texas elementary school where 21  were reported dead, including 18 children, during a board of education meeting that was cut short because of the incident.

Tom Donnelly, school board president, started the meeting at 6:30 p.m by saying:

"The first thing we would want to do is have a moment of silent reflection and prayer for those who have experienced something oh-too-familiar-to-us down in Texas. So please," Donnelly said as he and the board members bowed their heads and closed their eyes.

Donnelly said the board is praying for those in Texas and for students, staff and community members in Oxford who nearly six months ago suffered a mass shooting at Oxford High School that left four students dead and seven others, including a teacher, wounded.

"This just pokes at that scab and peels it back a bit," Donnelly said of the Texas shooting.

"This just pokes at that scab and peels it back a bit," Oxford Community Schools Board President Tom Donnelly, Jr. said of the Texas school shooting that left 14 students dead.

He said the board wanted to cancel the meeting so staff could get home to their families, but legal requirements forced the board to address a Freedom of Information Act extension request in closed session with the district's attorneys.

The board removed most other agenda items.

"Changes to the board agenda have been done. We reduced items. The only things left are those that have to get done legally," he said. 

On Tuesday, Oxford Superintendent Ken Weaver sent an email to families about the Texas shooting and the potential impact on the Oxford school community.

“Our hearts are shattered once again with the news of the school shooting in Texas where so many more precious lives have been needlessly stolen this afternoon,” Weaver wrote.

“Our deepest condolences extend to all those who have been impacted by this horrific crime as we know, all too well, their pain. This horrific news will undoubtedly affect each of us in our community.”

Weaver strongly encouraged families to limit their exposure to the news, writing that “it will be a retraumatizing trigger.” He asked parents to talk to their children about what happened in simple, appropriate language.

“It is likely to trigger, for some children, intrusive memories and emotional overload. Please normalize these memories and emotions for them by affirming that it can be expected to experience some intense memories and feelings after a similar tragedy,” Weaver said.

“Also recognize that they may feel numb as a way to cope. Communicate to them that they are safe in your home and you are willing to listen to whatever they are experiencing.”

Weaver reminded parents to allow themselves to be aware of their own emotions that may come flooding back.

“Some of your children may have a restless night. They will need your patience, kindness, and presence," he wrote. "They are trying to make sense of the senseless and do not need you to know the answers, but to be there with them and for them in their pain and confusion,” he wrote.

It's important for Oxford students to attend school on Wednesday to be together with their friends and teachers, Weaver said, but there will be no consequences for students who cannot come to school.

The district’s traumatic event crisis intervention plan team is working to have additional trauma specialists from EasterSeals and the Oakland Community Health Network available on Wednesday and for the rest of the week.

Oxford parent Emily Busch said on Tuesday night news of the death toll in Texas was upsetting as early numbers came in reporting two dead.

"But five minutes later when I was made aware they updated the death toll to 14, I couldn’t catch my breath. I sobbed in my car coming home from work. Uncontrollably," Busch said. "This has to stop. My son is angry. I’m angry and horribly sad."

Busch said she appreciated Weaver's letter to the community.

"I’m sure this is hitting too close to home for the staff. When is this going to end?  How do we make it stop? When will we make children’s safety the number one priority in this country?" Busch said.

Weaver's letter also shared crisis hotline numbers. Those numbers are 1-800-231-1127 or 1 (844) 446-4225.

Minutes after the Texas shooting, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said families of the survivors from the Oxford High shooting started reaching out for help. A team from the sheriff's office substation also contacted other families to offer support.

“I am sure this tragedy in Texas is triggering terrible memories, anxiety and fear in Oxford and our communities,” Bouchard said. “We want the community to know we are there for them in any form or fashion that can be helpful. We can connect them with mental health services or just be there to listen – united and Oxford strong."

Bouchard added that his office is devoting more resources to provide additional active shooter training and coordinating school resource officers throughout the county.

“Tragically we live in dangerous times, and we will do whatever it takes and seek whatever resources are necessary to be properly prepared to protect this community,” the sheriff said.

The Texas shooting reverberated across Michigan on Tuesday.

In Monroe County, Sheriff Troy Goodnough said there would be an increased police presence at all schools starting Wednesday.

"The safety of our schools, children and citizens remain a priority, therefore the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, in conjunction with the Michigan State Police, Monroe City Police Department, Monroe County Intermediate School District and all local law enforcement agencies will be collaborating efforts to provide increased patrols at all Monroe County schools throughout the end of the school year," his statement Tuesday read. 

The sheriff also urged the public to report suspicious activity to law enforcement or through the state OK2SAY program. 

"Although Monroe County Law Enforcement has not received any threats targeting Monroe County schools, it is important that citizens and children be aware and remain vigilant and cautious," the Sheriff's Office said.

Following a proclamation that President Joe Biden issued, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered American and state flags in the state Capitol complex and on all public buildings and grounds statewide to be lowered to half-staff through Saturday to honor the victims.

"My heart breaks for the students, teachers, staff and families of Robb Elementary School," Whitmer said in a statement. "The death of multiple students and the shooting of many others is horrific. Our state is in mourning alongside the parents who had their children taken from them today and the entire community in Uvalde, Texas."   


Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report.