An amended federal lawsuit alleges that officials, administrators, and staff members “accelerated” the Nov. 30, 2021 massacre at Michigan’s Oxford High School through acts and omissions directly related to the behavior of the alleged 15-year-old shooter, Ethan Crumbley.
The lawsuit was originally filed in the days following the school shooting that left Hana St. Juliana, 14, Tate Myre, 16, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, and Justin Shilling, 17, dead. Seven others were injured.
As Law&Crime reported at the time, the lawsuit initially stopped short of arguing direct culpability. It alleged three civil rights and vicarious liability claims, and it accused the defendants of being “responsible through their actions for making the student victims less safe.”
The new version of the lawsuit, filed last Friday (and more than double the length of the original filing), alleges myriad new facts in order to support 11 additional causes of action against the Oxford Community School District, Superintendent Timothy Throne, Principal Steven Wolf, alleged Dean of Students Ryan Moore, two unnamed counselors, two unnamed teachers, and one unnamed staff member.
Chief among the new additions is a claim that “Ethan Crumbley brought a severed bird head in a mason jar containing a yellow liquid to Oxford High School and left the jar on a toilet paper dispenser in the boys bathroom.” Law&Crime previously reported on several versions of the bird’s head incident — which is newly included in the $100,000-million-plus civil lawsuit.
The bird’s head was was allegedly reported to school administration officials, the lawsuit claims — and to Wolf in particular. The following day, some three weeks prior to the mass shooting, the Oxford High School administration sent an email to parents which said: “Please know that we have reviewed every concern shared with us and investigated all information provided . . . [w]e want our parents and students to know that there has been no threat to our building nor our students.”
Multiple parents, however, apparently didn’t feel very confident in those claims and sureties made by administrators and sent the principal several messages outlining their extant concerns.
“I know it’s been investigated but my kid doesn’t feel safe at school,” one parent allegedly told Wolf on Nov. 16, 2021, according to the lawsuit. “He didn’t even want to go back to school today.”
Wolf allegedly wrote back the same day to tell parents: “I know I’m being redundant here, but there is absolutely no threat at the HS . . . large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors.”
The updated filing alleges that Wolf then used his position of authority to tell students they had to stop discussing the bird’s head incident:
At all times relevant hereto, Defendant WOLF, while acting as the Principal of Oxford High School, directed the teachers and counselors to tell students to stop reporting, sharing, or otherwise discussing the threatening social media posts, and violent animal slaughter that was occurring at Oxford High School.
The lawsuit also implicates the superintendent in the bird incident.
“Throne and Wolf were aware that Ethan Crumbley brought a severed bird head to school and left it in the boys bathroom,” the filing goes on. “Throne and Wolf had actual knowledge of Ethan Crumbley’s violent tendencies and ideations.”
Substantially similar sections of the lawsuit also blame Throne, Wolf, Moore, and two counselors for accelerating the murder spree:
Defendant THRONE excited Ethan Crumbley by pulling him from class, and threatening that Child Protective Services would pull him out of his home (without actually calling Child Protective Services) and thus, accelerated the massacre by Crumbley.
Defendant WOLF excited Ethan Crumbley by pulling him out of class, warning him that Child Protective Services might be called (without actually calling Child Protective Services) thereby, encouraging Crumbley to accelerate his timetable for murder.
Defendant MOORE excited Ethan Crumbley by pulling him out of class, warning him that Child Protective Services might be called (without actually calling Child Protective Services) thereby, encouraging Crumbley to accelerate his timetable for murder.
The lawsuit also alleges that Crumbley brought live ammunition to school the day before the mass shooting but was nonetheless allowed to return to class by multiple figures of authority.
“On November 29, 2021, Ethan Crumbley brought live ammunition to Oxford High School and openly displayed the same while in the classroom,” the lawsuit goes on to allege.
Past iterations of the story suggested that Crumbley was looking at ammunition on his phone the day before the shootings occurred.
The amended filing leans heavily into the alleged public upbraiding Crumbley was given by administrators, faculty, and staff for the above-cited incidents and others that the lawsuit claims should have clued various adults in to the horrific violence ahead.
“[The first counselor] knew and/or should have known that by removing Ethan Crumbley from class, in front of his classmates, with his backpack and making him sit for an hour and a half while waiting for his parents, after Ethan Crumbley had drawn violent pictures and notes depicting death and violence against students at Oxford High School, such actions provided clearance for Ethan Crumbley to commit his acts of violence and would, and did, further accelerate Ethan Crumbley’s murderous plans,” the lawsuit alleges.
The alleged killer’s parents shook their heads in serious disagreement when prosecutors claimed during a recent court hearing that school officials had told the parents to remove Ethan from school shortly before the shootings occurred. The parents, James Crumbley and Jennifer Crumbley, seemed to be signaling that the official story — that school officials told them to bring Ethan home and to secure health treatment in a matter of hours — was a lie.
The federal civil lawsuit was filed by Jeffrey Franz and Brandy Franz as a “next friend” for Riley Franz, 17, and Bella Franz, 14, their minor children who sustained a gunshot wound to the neck and psychological turmoil during the shooting, respectively.
A Law&Crime telephone call to the plaintiffs’ attorneys was not returned late Tuesday afternoon.
In a motion, a declaration, and a subsequent reply filed in mid-December, Moore, the alleged Dean of Students, told the judge overseeing the federal civil lawsuit that he “was not the High School Dean of Students as alleged” when the shooting happened. Rather, he says he was working in another building under a different job title. The harshly worded materials filed by Moore’s attorneys severely chastise the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer for allegedly filing court documents full of “lies and misrepresentations” about the district’s response to Crumbley and about Moore specifically. Moore says he has received death threats, has been forced to beef up security at his home, and has worried about his future employability because of the alleged “reckless actions” of Geoffrey Fieger, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, in accusing him of wrongdoing.
“In a hurry to be on the news, Geoffrey Fieger filed a lawsuit against Oxford Schools and numerous employees without conducting the due diligence required by our Rules of Professional Responsibility,” Moore’s initial motion states. “This Court should immediately dismiss Mr. Moore from this lawsuit. It should also impose significant sanctions against Mr. Fieger for his unconscionable and reckless misconduct.”
“The allegations against me contained in Fieger’s lawsuit, Case No. 21-cv-12871, are completely false,” Moore added in a declaration.
Fieger and the plaintiffs responded by asking Moore to identify who the proper Dean of Students was when the shooting occurred. Moore refused and argued that it was not his job to tell the plaintiffs “who to sue.”
“Mr. Fieger should learn to admit when he makes a mistake,” argues a subsequent reply motion by Moore’s attorneys. “To err is human. To refuse to fix a mistake he made — despite knowing that he has placed an educator’s life in jeopardy — is unconscionable and shocking. Mr. Moore should be dismissed. Mr. Fieger should be sanctioned.”
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2022.
Read the full amended filing below:
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: this report has been updated to note that Moore has filed a motion to dismiss the case and to explain his reasoning for so doing.
[Image via screengrab from Michigan’s 52nd District Court – Division 3 by way of the Law&Crime Network]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]