A high school counselor and a dean unknowingly gave a shooting suspect a backpack containing the pistol and magazines officials say he used to kill four people and injure seven others in Oxford, Michigan, last year, a lawyer representing victims’ families said Thursday.
The exchange happened in the hours before the shooting, in a meeting at which the suspect, then 15, had been summoned after a math teacher found a notecard on his desk showing a gun, a bullet and several disturbing phrases, including “blood everywhere” and “the thoughts won’t stop,” lawyer Ven Johnson told reporters.
Details of the exchange came from depositions school officials provided after several families sued the Oxford Community School District in federal court last year.
The suit, which seeks $100 million in damages, accused the district of gross negligence and argued that the Nov. 30 shooting was “entirely preventable.”
During the meeting with counselor Shawn Hopkins and dean Nicholas Ejak, the student became "really worried" about missing chemistry class and asked for his homework and backpack, Johnson said.
Hopkins went to retrieve the bag, Johnson said. According to Hopkins' testimony, Johnson said, the counselor commented on the backpack's weight after the teacher gave it to him.
After he returned to the meeting, Hopkins gave the bag to Ejak, who passed it to the teen.
"Neither one of them, according to their testimony, even thought for a second to ask ... 'Hey dude, show us what's in there,'" Johnson said. "'We just want to make sure everything is cool.'"
Hopkins told the suspect’s parents, who attended the meeting, that if they didn't seek help for their son within 48 hours, he would report them to the local child protective services agency.
The student returned to class around 11 a.m. and is accused of opening fire just before 1 p.m., Johnson said.
Johnson said some school officials missed other red flags, including an incident Nov. 29 when the suspect's teacher saw him looking at images of bullets on his phone.
After the teacher began reviewing his classwork and noticed his interests "leaned toward the violent side," Johnson said, she reported what she had found to other school officials, including Hopkins. Johnson said neither official appeared to have investigated the matter.
In another incident earlier in the year, Johnson said, the suspect's Spanish teacher asked Hopkins to speak with her student because of an autobiographical poem indicating that he felt "terrible and that his family is a mistake."
Hopkins followed up with the teacher, who said she was no longer concerned because she believed the student was talking about homework, not his life, Johnson said.
A lawyer for Hopkins and Ejak did not respond Thursday to a request for comment. In a court filing, lawyers for the school denied allegations in the families' lawsuit and described some of them as inaccurate.
The teen has pleaded not guilty to two dozen charges, including murder. His parents were also charged with involuntary manslaughter and have pleaded not guilty.