Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Report: Michigan shooting showed school’s ‘failure and responsibility by omission’

The investigative firm commissioned by Oxford school officials found that there were protocols in place to deal with troubled students, but a lack of trained workers at all levels allowed the tragedy to unfold despite warning signs.

DETROIT (CN) — A report by the firm hired to examine the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in Michigan concluded that the tragedy might have been prevented if senior administrators had followed existing safety protocols, including enforcing policies about school threats and students' potentially suicidal thoughts.

Four students were killed and seven other people were wounded in the attack.

The 572-page report, released late Monday after more than a year of information gathering, was critical of the shooter and his parents, who “recklessly” gave him “the instrument of death.” However, its authors stressed that the report would focus “beyond blame” and how the shooter’s disturbing behavior should have raised more concerns.

Guidepost Solutions LLC, an international investigation company based in New York, was hired by the Oxford Community School Board in 2022 to produce an unbiased account of the incident. They established a website to present the findings. According to the report, neither the board nor the district administration took part in the investigation.

The report's authors wrote: "While we did not find intention, or callousness, or wanton indifference, we did find failure and responsibility by omission."

They went on to say that "in certain critical areas, individuals at every level of the district, from the board to the superintendent and his cabinet to the OHS administration and staff, failed to provide a safe and secure environment."

Guidepost staff said in the report that they were able to review thousands of documents provided by law enforcement and interviewed more than 100 people. However, dozens of critical witnesses refused to participate because of ongoing litigation or lasting trauma from the event.

“This lack of cooperation hindered and slowed our work and made the investigation more costly for the district,” the writers said.

While the report determined that the shooter’s behavior in the days leading up to the incident was not clear enough to raise red flags, his graphic drawings discovered the morning of the shooting should have caused school counselor Shawn Hopkins and Oxford Dean of Students Nicholas Ejak to express concerns to Oxford High's principals. Additionally, the report said that staff should have activated suicide intervention protocols.

The report did a deep dive into the shooter's academic history. The authors determined that in the weeks leading up to the shootings, his declining participation with schoolwork in certain classes and his failing grades should have garnered more attention.

The report noted that if suicide prevention protocols had been properly followed, the shooter would not have been returned to class the day of the incident.

Hopkins and Ejak both told police they thought the shooter was disturbed, but they allowed him to return to class even though his behavior signified a moderate suicide risk.

Guidepost disclosed that both Ejak and Hopkins talked to police but did not answer questions for the firm's investigation.

“The two people with the most information about the decision to allow the shooter to go back to class with his backpack refused to cooperate with our investigation,” the staff said in the report.

According to the report, neither man appeared to have been trained properly, but the shooter’s behavior should have been enough to spur them into action.

Former district Superintendent Timothy Throne, who left his position in 2022, was singled out by Guidepost for failing to implement threat prevention policies that were in place at the school but not necessarily carried out.

“The absence of threat assessment guidelines is a significant failure, the responsibility for which sits with the superintendent, the assistant superintendents, and the board," the report said.

According to the report, Throne should have structured his cabinet to assign specific administrators to address threat assessments, along with communicating the urgency of policy enforcement to building-level workers.

Throne directed investigators to two assistant superintendents who were tasked with enforcing the threat assessment policy, Denise Sweat and Jill Lemond. The report stated that Sweat refused multiple requests for interviews and Lemond denied any responsibility for overseeing that policy even though she prepared a grant application for threat assessment.

The report stressed that the district was full of dedicated workers committed to the growth of students but unintentional mistakes with lax threat assessment and suicide intervention policies were “costly.”  

Throne could not be reached for comment at press time.

In May 2023, the firm released an initial report that assessed the safety policies in place at the school at the time of the incident but did not include reports on interactions with the shooter.

The earlier report provided recommendations to improve mass notification systems for the campus and suggested more training to lock and secure classrooms during a threat. Guidepost also suggested that the school resume lockdown drills that were suspended following the shootings in November 2021.

The shooter pleaded guilty in October 2022 and was found to be eligible for life in prison without parole at a separate hearing. He could still avoid a lifetime behind bars when he is sentenced in December.

Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Kwamé L. Rowe could sentence the shooter to life in prison or decide that a term of years — with a minimum of 25 to 40 and a maximum of 60 — is more appropriate.

Three students were pronounced dead the day of the shooting and a fourth victim died the next morning. Six other students were shot, along with a teacher.

The shooters’ parents, who are charged with involuntary manslaughter, were recently rebuffed by the Michigan Supreme Court and are scheduled for a January trial.

According to the Guidepost website, public question-and-answer sessions for the report will be held in shifts all day Nov. 2 in Oxford.

Oxford, population 3,586, is in central Oakland County, about 40 miles north of Detroit.

Categories / Criminal, National, Personal Injury

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.