Michigan school shooting survivors sue school district

The lawsuit accuses school officials of ‘reckless disregard’ of students’ safety after four killed in the November 30 attack.

Four students were killed and seven other people were injured after gunman opened fire at Oxford High School, north of Detroit, on November 30 [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

The parents of two survivors of last week’s deadly school shooting in the US state of Michigan are suing the local school district and several school officials, accusing them of allowing the gunman to “carry out his murderous rampage”.

The $100m lawsuit was filed in the United States federal court on Thursday on behalf of Riley Franz, 17, who was shot in the neck, and her sister Bella Franz, 14, who witnessed the shooting.

It is the first known civil complaint related to the November 30 shooting that killed four people and injured seven others at Oxford High School, north of Detroit.

Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said school officials, including teachers, administrators and counsellors could have easily “prevented and stopped the slaughter” at the high school.

The accused attacker, 15-year-old sophomore Ethan Crumbley, is facing multiple charges, including terrorism and murder.

Students hug each other outside Oxford High School in Michigan, December 1 [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

His parents have also been charged with involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors accused them of allowing their son access to the gun used in the attack. Jennifer and James Crumbley pleaded not guilty.

On the day of the shooting, Crumbley’s parents were called to the school after a teacher discovered a note on the teenager’s desk depicting a person who appeared to be shot, a gun, a bullet and the words “blood everywhere” and “help me”.

The parents were told to get counselling for Ethan, but left after the meeting as the teenager was allowed back into the classroom.

Fieger – the lawyer representing the shooting survivors in their civil lawsuit – said while Crumbley and his parents are facing criminal charges, he is looking to hold school officials accountable.

“I understand we can’t change the perverted values of the Second-Amendment society overnight, values that prioritise gun ownership over the lives of our children,” he said, referring to the US constitutional provision that grants the right to bear arms.

“But we can make the cost of denying our own responsibility to stop this slaughter of our children so costly … so maybe, just maybe, children can be children again and live and learn in safe environments.”

Thousands from the community of Oxford, Michigan gather for a vigil to remember the students killed [File: Seth Herald/Reuters]

Some critics slammed the timing of the lawsuit, less than two weeks after the shooting.

“A teacher was shot as part of the Oxford tragedy. Countless others are traumatized for life,” Robert McCann, executive director of The K-12 Alliance of Michigan, a public education advocacy group, wrote on Twitter. “Geoffrey Fieger is trying to sue them.”

Fieger said the lawsuit was filed in federal court because Michigan laws make it difficult to sue public entities. The complaint accuses school officials of showing “reckless disregard” for the minors’ safety.

It also focuses on the school’s failure to involve the school safety liaison when the accused attacker started displaying warning signs that he may be dangerous. The teenager was caught looking up ammunition on his phone days before the shooting, according to prosecutors.

The lawsuit says Crumbley had also shown violent tendencies on his social media accounts prior to the shooting.

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford,” the teenager wrote on Twitter one day before the shooting, according to the legal complaint.

The Oxford Community School District did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Thursday.

“I am certain that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department believes that had the administrators and counsellors called in the police liaison – who is there and who is available to them – that Ethan Crumbley would not have been allowed to leave whatever room he was in, walk into a bathroom, arm himself, walk out and shoot Riley, almost kill Bella and kill four others,” Feiger said.

He said the sisters were leaving the toilet when the shooting started. “They were shot down like they were in a war zone. It happened like that. And since then, their lives have been absolutely upended,” he said.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on Monday that the school district had rejected her offer to conduct a review into the shooting, calling the decision disappointing.

“Despite this outcome, my department will continue to support the ongoing criminal investigation in Oakland County and looks forward to meeting with parents, students and teachers when they are ready to share their thoughts,” Nessel said in a statement.

On Thursday, Feiger decried the failure to stop school shootings over the past 20 years.

“When the right to own a gun trumps the right to protect our children and to make them safe, you know in America we have misplaced our priorities,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera