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Students, elected officials and community leaders respond to Oxford High shooting

Students attend a vigil at LakePoint Community Church in Oxford, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Authorities say a 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at Oxford High School, killing several students and wounding multiple other people, including a teacher.
Paul Sancya/AP
Students attend a vigil at LakePoint Community Church in Oxford, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Authorities say a 15-year-old sophomore opened fire at Oxford High School, killing several students and wounding multiple other people, including a teacher.

Students, elected officials and community leaders respond to Oxford High shooting

Four students were killed and seven other people were injured in a school shooting Tuesday afternoon at Oxford High School, in a small Oakland County community about 40 miles north of Detroit. Seventeen-year-old Justin Shilling died at McLaren Oakland Hospital Wednesday morning. The three other victims, who died Tuesday, are 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana and 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin.

The alleged shooter, who is a 15-year-old sophomore at the school, was charged with murder, attempted murder and terrorism causing death on Wednesday afternoon, among other charges. The student has been charged as an adult, and investigators say he was armed with a handgun purchased last week by his father.

Stateside spoke with a number of people who are dealing with the fallout of the shooting, from personal loss to coordinating resources for a grieving community.

Despite preparedness, Oxford community left mourning

Stateside's conversation with Dave Boucher

“While we hear about school shootings pretty frequently as a country, this sort of shooting, at least at this scale, is rare in Michigan,” said Dave Boucher, a Detroit Free Press reporter who has been covering this story. “Oxford is about 45 minutes northwest of Detroit. It's a small community. It's a tight knit community from everything we've heard,” said Boucher.

The Meijer across the street from the school closed yesterday afternoon to provide a place for students to reconnect with their families. Vigils were held around the city last night. But this morning, Boucher said, Free Press reporters on the ground described the scene around Oxford as “eerily quiet.” While county prosecutors have now charged the alleged shooter, Boucher said there are still plenty of unknowns.

“There are questions about what happened, why this happened, how it could happen in Oxford. There are questions about preparation. We heard a lot from law enforcement that they prepared for this.”

Both Oxford High School and the Oakland County Sheriff's Office had made specific preparations for school shootings, according to Boucher. The high school had performed an active shooter drill less than two months ago.

“There was also a school resource officer, a liaison who was on the scene, and [Oakland County] Sheriff Bouchard stressed that he and his team, and that other officers have specifically trained on not waiting to enter the school.”

Boucher said that law enforcement reported a speedy response, with officers arriving on the scene within minutes of the 911 calls. But in the short time before the alleged shooter was apprehended, ten students and one teacher were shot. Four students have passed away from their injuries, and one is still in critical condition.

Oakland County’s Coulter: Care for Oxford survivors now, legislate later

Stateside's conversation with Dave Coulter

Many have searched for clues that something terrible may have been precipitating — the alleged shooter’s father purchased the weapon last Friday and the Associated Press reported that at least one student stayed home after hearing that there might be a shooting — but Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter told Stateside that he knew what happened around 12:51 p.m. on Tuesday, November 30.

“There's a lot of support that's going to be needed, whether it's mental health support for the students, the teachers [or] just resources to help the community navigate this,” he said.

Coulter, whose office has been organizing efforts to support community members in the wake of the shooting, said that the coordinated response has been seamless.

“I know that when the community gets through this grief process, there will be, and rightly so, questions of what can we do to prevent this again,” he said. “You start talking about policies and that gets into politics.”

Right now, he said, the response is focused on supporting the students, families, and the entire Oxford community get through a “horrific situation.” Even though most of Oxford High’s roughly 1,700 students came home from school yesterday without physical injuries, Coulter said that no one is untouched in a situation like this.

“These tragedies have a way of just ripping in our sense of safety and the peace and security that should be rightfully ours in a setting like a school.”

The effects of trauma can come on long after the events that caused it, and Coulter said that mental health resources for survivors will continue to be available in the coming weeks.

Oxford High student’s first-hand account 

Stateside's conversation with Dylan Morris

Dylan Morris, a 17-year-old junior at Oxford High, was about to start his fifth period class after lunch when the shooting began. He said a classmate ran into the room and started to secure the door, reporting that “there was someone with a gun that came out of the bathroom and they heard that shots were fired, and they also saw smoke.”

After helping to barricade the classroom door, Morris said he reached out to his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins and prepared to fight for his life.

“I texted them and told them I love them. I'm not sure we'll make it out of this, but just know that I love you guys,” he said. “And yeah, so we all grabbed, we all armed ourselves with scissors. One student had a hockey stick just ready in case somebody came through those doors. It was very tense.”

Despite fear, Morris said he and his classmates knew how to follow the ALICE protocol that they were taught to use in active shooter drills; alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. He said that he’s been doing active shooter drills in school for as long as he can remember, and that he thought the practice worked to save lives yesterday.

But, Morris added, he is also processing what happened.

“You never think it's going to happen to you, especially in such a community as this. It's so small, you would think it would happen elsewhere, but it happened here, and it can happen anywhere else. It's very shocking. You always hear about Stoneman Douglas, Columbine. We’re being added to that list and...I don't know. It's very, it's very upsetting.”

To hear the conversation with Dylan Morris and Dave Coulter on the Stateside podcast, head here.

Care after a Crisis

Stateside's conversation with Dr. Darienne Driver Hudson

Dr. Darienne Driver Hudson is the president and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, a nonprofit organization that has also been coordinating the response to the shooting.

“It is so natural to want to spring into action on all different types of levels,” she said. “But what's most important is really figuring out how you can help rebuild a community.”

After hearing the news of the shooting, Hudson and her team started making calls “to help connect the right people together. And then, to be honest with you, able to know when to step back and let them do what they needed to do.”

Although working with a community through an active mass shooting was new to Hudson, working to curb gun violence among youth isn’t. Prior to working with United Way in Michigan, Hudson was a teacher and then superintendent in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In her time there, Hudson said she experienced multiple scares, where students brought weapons to school, sometimes with deadly consequences.

“When I was superintendent, I lost, on average, two students a month to gun violence, whether it was on school grounds or at home or in neighborhoods,” Hudson said.

Hudson says it’s easy to jump to legislative solutions — but in a situation like this, she emphasized the importance of supporting the immediate needs of survivors and families. However, she was not shy about offering solutions to make sure things like this don’t happen again.

“We have yet to really come together as a nation and just say enough is enough and demand better gun control and demand more resources and services for our children in our schools, whether it's for cyberbullying [or] mental health services and resources,” she said.

To hear the conversation with Dr. Darienne Driver Hudson on the Stateside podcast, head here.

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Elizabeth Harlow is an Assistant Producer for Stateside.
Claire Murashima is a production assistant for Stateside.