Lawsuit accuses school officials of accelerating Ethan Crumbley’s timetable for murder

Ethan Crumbley. Oakland County Sheriff’s Office/TNS

DETROIT — Nearly three weeks before Ethan Crumbley allegedly shot up Oxford High School, he brought a bird’s head to school in a mason jar filled with yellow liquid and left it on top of a toilet paper dispenser in the boy’s bathroom, according to new claims in a lawsuit.

School officials knew the sophomore had done this, the suit states, but told students and parents there was nothing to worry about.

Then he showed up with ammo.

On the day before the massacre, Ethan Crumbley brought bullets to class and had them out on full display — this in addition to researching ammunition on his cellphone that same day, a revised lawsuit states. School officials knew about the bullets, the suit claims, along with a Tweet he posted on Twitter hours later: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford.”

“The school was on alert about Ethan,” attorney Nora Hanna said to the Detroit Free Press in a phone interview this week, stressing school officials could have prevented the bloodshed. “There are a million things that they could have done.”

Hanna’s comments come on the heels of an updated lawsuit by Geoffrey Fieger’s law firm that seeks to hold school officials accountable for the Nov. 30 shooting that left four students dead and seven injured, including a teacher. Hanna, who works for Fieger, added 11 new counts against school officials on Friday, alleging they knew multiple troubling details about Ethan Crumbley before the shooting, and that they accelerated the teen’s “murderous rampage” through a series of missteps.

Given what they knew, the lawsuit states, school officials made the situation worse.

“(The principal) excited Ethan Crumbley by pulling him out of class, warning him that Child Protective Services might be called, thereby, encouraging Crumbley to accelerate his timetable for murder,” the lawsuit states, adding that removing the teen from class in front of his classmates and making him sit for an hour and a half while waiting for his parents “further escalated” his plan.

The revised lawsuit accuses school officials of failing to report Ethan Crumbley to CPS, as required by law. They threatened to do so, the suit notes, but never did.

Not after he allegedly brought a bird’s head to school.

Not after he allegedly brought bullets to class, or researched ammunition on his phone.

Nor after he allegedly drew a picture of a gun on his math homework, along with the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Fieger’s law firm revised the lawsuit after new details emerged in the criminal case, including allegations that Ethan Crumbley videotaped himself torturing animals at home, texted his mom multiple times about “ghosts” and “demons” in the house, made Molotov cocktails at home, drew a sketch of himself shooting up his school in a journal, texted a friend “it’s time to shoot up a school JK.” and hid a bird’s head under his bed for six months.

It was that bird head that wound up in a bathroom stall at Oxford High School two weeks before the shooting, the lawsuit states, alleging students reported the gruesome discovery to school officials.

The next day, the suit says, a school email went out to the parents.

“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,” the email stated.

According to Hanna, video surveillance at the school showed that it was Ethan Crumbley who left the bird’s head in the bathroom.

Turned out, it wasn’t the only animal head sighting at the school.

According to the school’s website, someone had dumped a severed deer’s head in a school courtyard on Nov. 4, and scrawled messages in red acrylic paint on the pool deck and various windows. Shortly thereafter, parents started complaining to the school principal about threats to students made on social media.

On Nov. 16, another email went out to parents.

“I know I’m being redundant here, but there is absolutely no threat at the HS,” the principal stated in the email, which was cited in the lawsuit. “ ... Large assumptions were made from a few social media posts, then the assumptions evolved into exaggerated rumors.”

But Fieger’s lawsuit alleges that school officials had spotted troubling social media posts made by Ethan Crumbley prior to the shooting, in which he “threatened Oxford High School students.” And they knew about his “violent tendencies and ideations,” the suit states.

Yet despite knowing this, the suit alleges, the superintendent sent emails to parents “reassuring them that their children were safe,” discouraged parents and students “from reporting, sharing or discussing” threatening social media posts,” and went on the school intercom and warned students “to stop spreading information over social media.”

As for the severed deer head, school officials said an investigation has determined who did it, but they have not released that person’s name.

The lawsuit also accuses school officials of negligently excluding the school safety liaison officer from a meeting that was held with Ethan Crumbley and his parents on the morning before the shooting, when a teacher found the teen’s violent note with the drawing of a handgun. It also accused two counselors of “deliberately” deciding against showing that note to the school officer.

Tim Mullins, an attorney for the school district, could not be reached for comment, though he has previously defended the district’s handling of the shooting and said it is fully cooperating with authorities.

In court documents, Mullins has stated that the school will fight to have Fieger’s lawsuit dismissed on immunity grounds. He has not elaborated on the immunity defense strategy, saying only that the goal is to get the school back up and running.

“My focus is to get this community healed ... to get the teachers who love their kids back in the classrooms,” Mullins has previously said, stressing that a more pressing criminal case is going on. “The prosecutor made it very clear, ‘I don’t want you releasing anything.’ I said, ‘Agreed.’ We’ve given (the prosecution) everything we have.”

Ethan Crumbley is facing terrorism and first-degree murder charges for allegedly opening fire in a school hallway with a gun that his parents bought him as an early Christmas present four days before the shooting.

His parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for what prosecutors have described as poor parenting choices that they believe cost four students their lives. Prosecutors have accused the couple of ignoring a child who they say was troubled and spiraling out of control. And rather than get their son help, prosecutors have said, they bought him a gun and failed to properly secure it.

The Crumbleys maintain they are innocent, saying they had no way of knowing that their son would use the gun in a deadly school shooting, that they kept the weapon properly secured, and that they are not responsible for the tragedy.

All of the Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty.

At issue in this case is why school officials allowed Ethan Crumbley to return to class given the violent drawing he allegedly made on the morning of the shooting, and the ammunition he allegedly researched the day before. While his parents were called to the school that day, authorities said, they refused to take him home, so the teen was allowed to return to class on the condition he get therapy within 48 hours.

His backpack was never searched.

According to school officials, Ethan Crumbley explained that the drawing of the gun and blood was part of a video game design, and that counselors did not believe he might harm others based on his “behavior, responses and demeanor,” so they let him return to class.

Shortly after, police said video evidence from inside the school showed Ethan Crumbley emerging from a bathroom and opening fire in a hallway. The shooting lasted for about five minutes before the gunman surrendered to law enforcement. Police said they believe the weapon used in the shooting was carried in Ethan Crumbley’s backpack.

The high school sophomore is accused of fatally shooting Hana St. Juliana, 14; Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Justin Shilling, 17.

Ethan Crumbley, who was charged as an adult, was bound over for trial last week and is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday in Oakland County Circuit Court. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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