Michigan School Could Have Stopped Gunman, $100M Lawsuit Alleges

The lawsuit alleges multiple concerned parents alerted Oxford high School to online threats from the shooter.
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Parents of a teenage girl shot in the neck during the horrific mass shooting in Michigan are suing multiple school employees saying they could have done more to stop the incident.

A lawsuit filed by Jeffrey and Brandi Franz on behalf of their daughters, Bella, 14, and Riley, 17, asks for $100 million and names the Oxford Community School District superintendent, the Oxford High principal, the dean of students, and two school counselors, two teachers, and a staff member as defendants.

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Authorities allege Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old student, drew a Sig Sauer 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and began firing at a group of students on November 30. Four were killed and seven more wounded. During the shooting Riley was shot in the neck in front of Bella. Riley survived the gunshot wound but, the lawsuit states, it caused her “severe trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, fright, shock, terror, anxiety as well as physical and emotional injuries.”

"The parents' claims against the school district are both viable and valuable," said Christa Ramey, one of the Franz's attorneys, in a press release. "One of their daughters watched her sister get shot in the neck. What could be more traumatic? This is exactly the type of lawsuit I would expect to see out of these circumstances.”

The alleged shooter, by not saying anything during his court hearing last week, defacto plead “not guilty” to murder, attempted murder, and terrorism charges.

The lawsuit alleges those working at the school ignored several warning signs leading up to the tragedy and the deaths and trauma that came from the shooting were “entirely preventable.” The lawsuit is requesting a jury trial. 

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In the days leading up to the shooting, the lawsuit states the alleged gunman posted several things on social media indicating the coming violence, including a countdown. These threats did not go unnoticed by students. The lawsuit alleges multiple parents of students contacted Steven Wolf, the school’s principal, on November 16, just over two weeks before the shooting, to bring their worries to his attention. One even wrote Wolf that their child didn’t even want to go to school in light of the threats.

"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,” Wolf said in an email to the parents, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says after this email was sent, Timothy Thorne, the school's superintendent, took to the school’s loudspeaker and told the students to “stop spreading information over social media and to stop relying on information on social media.” Thorne, like Wolf, reiterated there was no reason to be scared.

Following this, the alleged shooter posted a photo of himself with a handgun on social media.

“School administrators fear overreacting, but in this case, overreacting was exactly what they needed to do,” said Ramey. “The danger was just too great."

VICE News has reached out to both Thorne and Wolf but has not received a response. 

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The lawsuit also lists two of the alleged shooter's teachers as defendants, saying they caught him researching ammunition several days before the shooting, and, on the day of the shooting, with a note with a picture of a person being shot and the words “the thoughts won’t stop, help me” on it. The lawsuit states that despite multiple opportunities, the teachers, counselors, and administrators did not inform the school safety liaison.

After the student was discovered with the note he was made to go to sit in the counselor's office until his parents arrived. Following a meeting with the parents, he was allowed to stay at the school. Shortly after the school shooting took place.

At a press conference, Geoffrey Fieger, another attorney representing the Franzs, said “ by doing the things that they did or didn't do, they placed the students in much greater danger than they would have been.” Thorne made a public video shortly after the shooting to address the violence that took place at the high school, and in it he indicated the school made the right decision to allow the student back into the classroom.

"I want you to know that there's been a lot of talk about the student that was apprehended," Throne said. "That he was called up to the office and all that kind of stuff. No discipline was warranted."

Last week, in an unusual move, the district prosecutor chose to charge the shooters’ parents alleging that they could have realistically intervened. Jennifer and James Crumbley face four involuntary manslaughter charges. The prosecutors alleged that his parents purchased the handgun for him as a Christmas gift and they knew he had access to it after they were informed of his troubling behavior at home. They have pleaded not guilty.

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.