Oxford High School shooting: A future educator responds

The article below contains information concerning violence and death. Resources for grief or emotional distress include Hope’s Counseling Center (CAPS), 616-395-7945, or Campus Ministries, van Andel Huys der Hope, 616-395-7145.

From a recent campus-wide email from Dean of Students Richard Frost: “Unfortunately, an event like this is a reminder to us all that caring for each and every member of our campus community must include a safety mindset. It requires that we say something if you see (or hear) something. It requires that we know the emergency elements of run, hide, fight. It requires that we have the Campus Safety phone number (616-395-7770) in our contacts. I lament that this tragedy requires these reminders, yet each is an act of love and self-care.

On Tuesday, November 30, four students were shot and killed at Oxford High School in Oakland, Michigan on the outskirts of Detroit. Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Madisyn Baldwin, 17, were declared dead on the scene. Tate Myre, 16, died in a police car as officers rushed him to the hospital and Justin Shilling, 17, died on Wednesday morning at Mclaren Oakland Hospital. Six other students, ranging in age from 14 to 17, and a teacher were wounded by gunfire. The suspect is a fifteen-year-old boy, a student at the high school. He has been charged with murder, terrorism, assault and weapons possession, and after what has been described as a high-profile manhunt, his parents have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said that the suspect’s father purchased the 9mm Sig Sauer used in the shooting just four days earlier on Black Friday. 

The four victims tragically lost their lives last Tuesday.

“When I first heard about the shooting, the news anchor said, ‘three parents will not be welcoming their children home tonight’ and that really struck me,’” said Elizabeth Rocha, a junior studying elementary education and social studies. “The thought of sending your child to school and expecting them to come home and then hearing that not only was their safety put at risk but that they lost their lives would be so completely shattering. I just can’t imagine what these parents are going through.” 

Elizabeth Rocha, an aspiring elementary school teacher

According to CNN, this attack was the deadliest US school shooting since eight students and two teachers were slain in May 2018 at Texas’ Santa Fe High School. There have been 48 shootings this year on K-12 campuses, 32 of them since August 1.

On the day before the shooting, a teacher saw the suspect searching for ammunition online during class, which led to a meeting with school officials. After being informed by the school about their son’s behavior, his mother texted him: “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” according to Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald. On the morning of the shooting, another teacher found a note the suspect had drawn, which the New York Times reports contained images of a gun, a person who had been shot and a laughing emoji and the words, “Blood everywhere,” and, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” His parents were called in for an urgent meeting with school officials but did not want their son to be removed from school. 

At 12:51 p.m. later that day, authorities received the first of more than a hundred 911 calls about the shooting. The suspect emerged from a bathroom and began firing at students in the hallway. After hearing the gunshots, students and teachers ran for cover and began barricading themselves in classrooms. Eleven people had been shot within five minutes. 

Rocha commented on the values she has learned in her education courses, explaining that “we explore different ways that we can increase social and emotional awareness. I feel like maybe ten or twenty years ago, parents were expected to teach their kids how to be socially and emotionally aware. But because it has become more common to get threats of shootings at school, educators are focusing more on taking care of emotions and thoughts… there’s been a really necessary shift away from the stigma surrounding therapy or even self-care into taking care of our minds as well as our bodies.” 

Oxford High School students at a candlelight vigil for the victims and their families.

In response to a question about how we can move forward and prevent these tragedies, Rocha pointed to a post circulating social media that promotes “policy and change” over “thoughts and prayers,” pushing for direct action. “Children are losing their lives before the age of eighteen, and it’s tragic. I think the only way we can move past this is to increase social and emotional learning and honestly, enforce stricter gun control laws.” She also addressed proposed legislation to arm teachers in classrooms, saying, “Not only are you giving teachers weapons, but you are also expecting a teacher to be able to handle a high-stress situation like this that they are not necessarily trained for… There are many ways to address this, but not if you don’t make it more difficult for a teenager to get a gun.”



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