OXFORD, Mich. (CNS) – A day after a tragic shooting claimed the lives of four Oxford High School students and forever changed the lives of countless others, community members were picking up the pieces.
On a cold December 1 afternoon, the scene at Oxford High remained grim, with patrol cars and news vans dotting the streets and parking lots of the generally quiet city.
A few steps from the south entrance of the school, adjacent to the inverted ball football stadium, the pupils arrived in small groups, many with tears in their eyes, to deposit teddy bears, flowers, crosses and others. candles at the foot of the sign.
In the city center, a small army of volunteers tied blue and gold ribbons – the colors of the Oxford school – to every lamppost and road sign, while businesses posted messages of support.
Inside the school, authorities continued to comb through mountains of crime scene evidence. This was just the start of an investigation, according to Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, which could last weeks or even months as MPs and federal agents interview hundreds of witnesses and seek out evidence. clues on the mobile of the alleged shooter.
Authorities have identified Ethan Crumbley, 15, a sophomore at the school, as the suspect. Crumbley was arraigned on December 1 and will be tried as an adult on 24 criminal charges, including terrorism and four counts of first degree murder.
Throughout the day, mourners came to pay their respects to those killed, including 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, a first-year volleyball player; Madisyn Baldwin, 17, an elderly and aspiring artist; Tate Myre, 16, junior running back for the college football team; and Justin Shilling, 17, co-captain of the school’s bowling team.
Three of the students died on November 30, while Shilling succumbed to his injuries on December 1, authorities said. Seven other people were injured in the attack, and many remained hospitalized.
An online petition had already gathered more than 77,000 signatures to rename the Wildcats football stadium to the name of Myre, who witnesses said was trying to disarm the shooter when he was shot.
As the shockwaves continued to reverberate through the community, those at St. Joseph’s Catholic School near Lake Orion were among those mourning. Many students at School K-8 have siblings or family members at Oxford High, where many St. Joseph alumni attend, principal Joseph Zmikly said.
“As a former Oxford myself, as well as someone who worked at the school for three years, it’s about as close to my home as I can get,” Zmikly told Detroit Catholic , the media of the Archdiocese of Detroit. “It’s everyone’s worst nightmare working in a school.”
Zmikly said he knew the Oxford teacher who was among the injured, a 47-year-old woman, and texted her while she was in hospital.
“She’s back home now, thank goodness,” Zmikly said on December 1. âI was chatting with her a bit. I let her know that I was praying for her, and she said, ‘I thought of you when I was in the hospital. Pray hard for the Oxford family. asked how she was, and she said she was physically fine – the bullet went through her arm – but not so emotionally.
Zmikly said he “cannot imagine” the grieving the parents of the victims are going through, adding that the entire community of St. Joseph – as well as all of Oxford and nearby Lake Orion – is rallying for the families.
âOne of the kids who died, I knew him,â Zmikly said. âThere is another girl who is in critical condition, and I taught her older brother when I was a teacher. There are a lot of connections.
St. Joseph’s School was closed on December 1 out of respect for families, Zmikly said, so staff and students could cry.
The school also brought in counselors from Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan to speak to teachers and staff, who needed tools to help students cope with the return to school on December 2, he said. -he declares.
âWe know there will be a wide range (of emotions),â Zmikly said. âSome children are going to be very personally affected by this, while for other children it could just as well have happened (elsewhere). We try to help our teachers learn to sail together.
Andrea Foley, chief operating officer and director of behavioral health for Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, said grief counselors have offered guidance to staff to talk about the crisis to different age groups, providing proactive opportunities to discuss their feelings, providing an open forum for students to express their own fears, as well as ways to âdo something positiveâ to support victims.
âOne suggestion we made was to have students write cards or draw pictures to send to high school,â Foley told Detroit Catholic. “They might have their own ideas to support the children in the (Oxford) community.”
The social service agency will also be in touch with Oakland County officials to provide mental health services directly to families at Oxford High School, Foley said.
She also referred to La Casa Amiga, a Spanish-speaking outreach and counseling center in Pontiac, Michigan run by Catholic Charities, as another resource for Oxford students.
âA lot of our families who use (La Casa Amiga) services have children who go to high school in Oxford,â Foley said. âWe have Spanish speaking staff who can offer the same type of support. “
Foley said it’s important for teachers and school administrators to reassure students that their own learning environment is safe, stressing the need to speak up if a student or staff member witnesses or hears something abnormal.
âThey might have concerns about this stuff happening in their own school,â Foley said. Staff members should remind students of the safety protocols in place in their own schools and âlet students think about what they would do in a similar situationâ.
âRemind them that their school is safe,â Foley said. “And encourage the children to say if they see something unusual they should always tell a teacher.”
A tragedy such as the Oxford shooting affects everyone in the community, Foley said, including councilors.
âI have family in Oxford and I know it’s a small community,â Foley said. âMy brother lives in the area opposite the Meijer (grocery store) where the children were evacuated. My nephew is in college texting me saying, âI’m fine, I’m fine. But he was probably not doing well.
Foley said watching his nephew process his emotions made him realize the gravity of the situation and that healing would take a lot of time and resources.
âI asked him if he had any friends who were going to high school, and he said yes, but none of them got shot,â Foley said. âAnd it struck me that this child now has that as part of his lived experience. It’s just a parent’s worst nightmare.
Zmikly said the Catholic faith community can testify to the general public of Jesus’ embrace of those who are suffering and that death does not have the last word.
âFather Jim (Kean, pastor of St. Joseph) emphasized during the session that as terrible as it may be, we unite our suffering with the cross and the suffering of Jesus,â Zmikly said. âHe is there with us and our suffering.
âYou hope that is one of the positive aspects that can come out of a tragedy like this, that maybe people come closer to God at such times,â he added. âYou hope that will happen. “
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Stechschulte is editor-in-chief of Detroit Catholic, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s media outlet.