The parents of one of the survivors of the deadly Oxford High School shooting last week have accused the school principal of brushing off warnings of potential violence days before the bloody rampage.
In twin $100 million federal lawsuits filed Thursday, Jeffrey and Brandi Franz, the parents of two students caught in the middle of the massacre, place the blame for the bloodshed squarely on school officials. Their daughter Riley was struck in the neck during the Nov. 30 shooting, and her sister Bella was right next to her when it happened.
Both students have been left “traumatized” as if they “were surviving in a war zone,” attorney Geoffrey Feiger, who filed the lawsuit, said at a Thursday press conference.
He called it a “travesty and tragedy in America” that both teenagers are “going to have to go back to school that they know was attacked and is a war zone.”
The lawsuits are the first to seek to hold school officials accountable for the massacre allegedly committed by 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore who prosecutors say opened fire on classmates using a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun purchased for him by his parents just four days earlier as an early Christmas present.
“The horror of November 30, 2021, was entirely preventable,” the lawsuit reads. “Each and every Defendant named herein created and increased the dangers then-existing at Oxford High School.”
The lawsuit singles out Oxford Community School District superintendent Timothy Throne, Oxford High School principal Steven Wolf, two counselors, two teachers, a staff member, and the dean of students.
It details a plea from parents to Wolf on Nov. 16, more than two weeks before the shooting, about unspecified threats made against students on social media.
“On or about November 16, 2021, days prior to the actual incident, multiple concerned parents provided communications to Defendant WOLF with concerns about threats to students made on social media,” the lawsuit reads.
“The parents’ communications to WOLF in part stated, ‘I know it’s been investigated but my kid doesn’t feel safe at school,’ ‘He didn’t even want to go back to school today.’”
Wolf is said to have responded to parents that same day and saying, “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.”
It was not clear from the lawsuit which social media posts were the focus of the parents’ appeal, but the lawsuit notes that both Wolf and Throne were made aware of threatening social media posts by Crumbley prior to the attack.
A post on Crumbley’s Twitter account on the eve of the attack apparently went unnoticed: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds. See you tomorrow Oxford,” it read.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed Thursday, Timothy Mullins, a lawyer representing Oxford Schools, sent a letter to Feiger stating that one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, Ryan Moore, was no longer employed by the school district and had not been for more than a year. He demanded a retraction of Moore’s name from the suit, and went on to note that “the prosecutor has asked that we not comment on these matters to avoid compromising the ongoing prosecutorial proceedings.”
“Furthermore, to allow the entire community the ability to grieve, I have no intention of litigating this matter in the media,” he said.
Wolf could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
In the wake of the attack, questions have swirled about what more could have been done to stop the alleged gunman. Those questions only multiplied when school officials revealed there had been a series of red flags in Crumbley’s behavior prior to the attack, so much so that they had demanded his parents get him into counseling within 48 hours.
Oxford County prosecutor Karen McDonald said a teacher caught Crumbley searching for ammo on his phone during class on the day before the attack. Another teacher sounded the alarm about “concerning drawings and written statements” Crumbley made just hours before he allegedly opened fire in the school hallway, killing four and wounding seven.
School officials alerted Crumbley’s parents about both incidents and called them in for a meeting on the morning of the shooting, but they were brushed off, McDonald said last week when charging Jennifer and James Crumbley with involuntary manslaughter.
In a statement over the weekend, Throne sought to explain why Crumbley was sent to class even after these incidents. He said the teen had offered explanations for both the worrying internet searches and drawings, claiming he came from a family of gun enthusiasts and had drawn the violent imagery because it was part of a video game he was designing in his bid to become a video game developer.
School counselors saw no indication the teenager wanted to inflict harm, Throne said, and “the student’s parents never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him.”
After the ammo incident, Jennifer Crumbley didn’t respond to an email and voicemail from the school, and instead texted her son, “Lol, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” McDonald said last week. In addition to buying their son the gun he allegedly used in the attack, they also allegedly failed to secure it and did nothing to alert school officials to the fact that the teen had access to it.
“When the parents were asked to take their son home for the day [on the morning of the shooting], they flatly refused and left without their son, apparently to return to work,” Throne said in a letter Saturday.
“Given the fact that the child had no prior disciplinary infractions, the decision was made [that] he would be returned to the classroom rather than sent home to an empty house,” Throne wrote. “These incidents remained at the guidance counselor level and were never elevated to the principal or assistant principal’s office.”