The Mental Health Association in Michigan wishes to extend its deepest sympathies to the students, faculty, families and community members of Oxford, Michigan, who are experiencing deep shock, horror and grief over the shooting that occurred at Oxford High School on November 30, 2021. At times like this, there are no words that can express what all of you may be experiencing. We offer our condolences to all of you as your community navigates this horrific tragedy.
When I heard about the shooting at Oxford High School, I was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, attending a Mental Health America Policy meeting entitled, "Crisis Equals Opportunity," and the topic of discussion was crisis services, the new 988 suicide hotline, and ways to expand access to crisis services in the United States. An unfortunate coincidence that we are dealing with a Michigan school shooting at the same time the new 988 National Suicide Prevention Hotline is being unveiled nationally. The Hotline can be used for individuals who are feeling suicidal, but it is also intended to help anyone who calls with a mental health crisis.
And it cannot come soon enough.
If another school shooting does not highlight the urgent nature of ensuring crisis services are more readily available across our state, then I am not sure what more needs to happen (negatively speaking) to make the need more evident. In 2021, we are more "trauma-informed" than ever before. It is time for us to make certain anyone who needs mental health assistance before, during and after a crisis, has it available.
Given the events of November 30, the community of Oxford and others in our state will need access to crisis mental health services as the community and those who have lost children deal with the aftermath. Support is needed for so many including teachers and first responders, such as law enforcement, and EMS staff. As more details unfold about the possible motives behind the gunman's actions, there is the potential for more traumatization. Recent news reports over the last few days are revealing what appears to be a deeply troubled young person who was struggling and was making threats of violence. It sounds like those threats were not taken seriously. "Copycat" shooters have emerged, which often happens when there is an event such as this. It is unfortunate, but it is true.
We need to be prepared to deal with what may come afterwards.
So many unanswered questions and many that may never be answered.
Michigan, however, is moving in the right direction about ensuring not only there is a person to call, but there is someone to respond and, when necessary, a place to go. Until 988 is fully implemented in Michigan, the soon-to-be statewide Michigan Crisis and Access Line is the person/place to call. What needs to happen next is the person to respond and that is where mobile crisis units can be helpful and useful. Another serendipitous event occurred on Thursday, December 2, when the Michigan House of Representatives Health Policy Committee voted favorably on Senate Bills 637 and 638. SB 637, sponsored by Senator Stephanie Chang, would create funding for local communities to establish mobile crisis units. The bill passed through the House Health Policy Committee and was reported out. This is a good thing, and the subject of this blog is proof of that.
Finally, on another note, this latest school shooting, unfortunately in our state of Michigan, may be a cautionary tale regarding the difficulties associated with accurately interpreting behavior that might be dangerous or reflective of an underlying mental health condition. Why define this as a cautionary tale? Because while there are often signals an individual may be homicidal or suicidal, sometimes those signs can be misinterpreted or difficult to understand. Or ignored. There are many details that remain unknown, but there is enough information to determine 'something' has gone terribly wrong when a young person plans to take a gun to school with the intention of killing his classmates.
And now questions are arising about "why" school administrators did not pay attention to what Ethan Crumbley had written and recorded. The prosecutor is focused on the premeditated nature of Ethan's behavior, and it should be a partial focus. At the same time, as a mental health professional, I cannot help but ask, "why wasn't his mental health evaluated?" In Michigan, an individual can be involuntarily committed for being a threat to self or others and, often, individuals who are homicidal are also suicidal.
So, what happened here?
Why wasn't Ethan sent to the hospital for an evaluation?
Notes he wrote said he could not stop the "voices" in his head.
According to news reports on CNN and "The Daily Beast," the suspected gunman, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, concerns were raised among school administrators about his behavior. Only hours before the shooting, there was a meeting with school officials and his parents to talk about his behavior. As of right now, there is not a lot of information about "what" the school personnel were observing in Ethan that made them contact the Oakland County Sheriff's Office, but there must have been indicators something was amiss with the sophomore. One student, Nathan Swanson cited in an online story that appeared in the December 2, 2021, edition of the "Daily Beast", said "He wore all black, I believe he was really into hunting." Source. This same student also reported that Ethan did not talk to "anyone."
Over the next few days and weeks, more details will be revealed. According to the "Daily Beast," "At Crumbley's arraignment, Oakland County Sheriff's Lt. Tim Willis told Judge Nancy Carniak that a search of the boy's home turned up "two separate videos recovered from Ethan's cellphone made by him the night before the incident, wherein he talked about shooting and killing students the next day at Oxford High School."
Ethan's parents are being charged with the crimes as well.
All of this will serve to generate more questions than answers. As of this writing, it is unknown whether Ethan Crumbley has a formally diagnosed mental health condition or not. At the same time, the hope is we can learn from the horrific tragedy that occurred this week at Oxford High School and continue to work with legislators and policymakers to ensure when there is a traumatic event such as this, local communities are provided with all of the resources necessary to support those who have been traumatized. In the world of trauma-informed mental health services, the number one goal is to establish safety and a connection to others. As world-renowned traumatologist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. has said:
"Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives."
- Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
The only value in tragedy is the lessons it presents to us. Let us hope this recent horrendous event will urge us forward as we continue to meet the mental health needs of Michigan citizens.
Until next time,
Marianne Huff, LMSW
President & CEO