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OXFORD CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Students at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit scrambled for cover and barricaded classroom doors with chairs when they heard the first gunshots on Tuesday afternoon. Within five minutes, the authorities said, a 15-year-old student at the school had shot 11 people, killing three fellow students.
The dead were a 16-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl.
“I was just kind of sitting there shaking,” said Dale Schmalenberg, 16, who said he was in calculus class when his teacher heard the first gunshot and immediately locked down the classroom. “I didn’t really know how to respond.”
Michael McCabe, the Oakland County undersheriff, said two of the wounded people were in surgery, in unknown condition, on Tuesday evening. Six others were in stable condition. One teacher was among the injured; the rest were students.
Undersheriff McCabe said the school, in Oxford Charter Township, was blanketed with security cameras and had repeatedly worked with law enforcement to hold active shooter drills. A sheriff’s deputy and security guards were assigned to the building. And students described frequent practice with lockdowns.
“The school made sure that we knew where to go, who to call, and how to act,” said Eva Grondin, a 15-year-old sophomore, who attended active shooter training several weeks ago, and who fled from the hallway to a parking lot on Tuesday when she heard gunfire. “If we didn’t have this training I don’t know what would have happened.”
The authorities received the first of more than a hundred 911 calls about the shooting at 12:51 p.m., Undersheriff McCabe said. He said the suspect, whose name was not immediately released and who was being held in a juvenile jail, had fired 15 to 20 shots with a semiautomatic handgun.
Undersheriff McCabe said the gunman was a student at the school who had been in class earlier Tuesday. The boy’s parents went to a sheriff’s substation and declined to make their child available for an interview. The authorities were serving a search warrant at the family’s house in Oxford, Mich., on Tuesday evening.
In recent weeks, a severed deer head and graffiti was found on school grounds, and school officials released a statement seeking to calm “numerous rumors that have been circulating throughout our building.” Undersheriff McCabe said Tuesday that the deer head incident was unrelated to the shooting, and that he had not been aware of any indication of warning signs on Tuesday.
“We are not aware of any warnings,” the undersheriff said. “Please don’t believe everything you hear and see on social media.”
President Biden, speaking at an event in Minnesota, said “my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one,” adding, “That whole community has to be in a state of shock right now.”
Aiden Page, a senior at the school, said his teacher immediately locked the door after gunshots sounded. He said the rest of the class helped put up a quick barricade and cover the windows before hiding around the room. Some students, he recalled, armed themselves with scissors while the teacher walked around quietly, checking on them.
“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” Aiden said. “And then it does. It’s just insane.”
The authorities said they did not believe the suspect had planned the shooting with anyone else. They said they were still investigating whether it was a random shooting or a targeted one. Undersheriff McCabe said one of the deputies who helped take the gunman into custody was assigned to patrol the high school full time.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, traveled to Oxford Charter Township on Tuesday evening. She thanked police officers and firefighters, and described the shooting as “a uniquely American problem that we need to address.”
“I think this is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Ms. Whitmer said.
The authorities were expected to provide more information at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.
From the moment that the authorities confirmed reports of a fatal shooting inside a Michigan high school on Tuesday, officials across the country expressed shock and Democratic leaders renewed their calls for more to be done to reduce gun violence.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said in a statement that she was “devastated for the students, teachers, staff, and families” of the school where the shooting occurred, Oxford High in Oakland County.
Calling gun violence a “public health crisis,” she added that “no one should be afraid to go to school, work, a house of worship, or even their own home. This is a time for us to come together and help children feel safe at school.”
At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Whitmer, her voice breaking, said, “I think this is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
President Biden also offered condolences to the victims of the shooting.
“As we learn the full details, my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one,” he said, before speaking about infrastructure in Minnesota.
“That whole community has to be in a state of shock right now,” Mr. Biden added.
Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, said in a statement that his “heart goes out to the parents who have lost their children and to the students, teachers, staff, and families reeling from the tragedy of a school shooting within their community.”
Echoing Ms. Whitmer, she added that “we must act to properly address gun violence in our schools and the ongoing threat of another unconscionable tragedy if we continue to only offer thoughts and prayers. Our kids deserve better.”
Rosemary Bayer, a state senator who represents the district that includes Oakland County, said in a statement that “the news of today’s school shooting at Oxford High School is simply horrifying.”
Mallory McMorrow, a Democratic state senator representing Royal Oak, said on Twitter that she was “at a loss of words, and I don’t want to hear ‘thoughts and prayers.’”
She added that “I want everyone in any position of authority to agree that easy access to firearms that allow children to kill other children is not an acceptable world to live in and that we will do everything to stop it.”
James Tankersley contributed reporting.
The A.P. statistics class had just started when Aiden Page, a senior at Oxford High, heard the sound of two gunshots. His teacher immediately locked the door, he said, and the rest of the class helped put up a quick barricade and cover the windows before hiding around the room.
They were prepared, he said in a phone interview with The New York Times. They do drills for shootings like this several times a year.
But this wasn’t a drill. Aiden texted his family and told them he loved them. Then he checked on his friends, to make sure they were OK, he said.
Some students, he recalled, armed themselves with scissors while the teacher walked around quietly, checking on them. Later, after the gunman was taken into custody, Aiden said he was still processing what happened.
Students and staff members at Oxford High School did everything right as the school shooting unfolded on Tuesday, the undersheriff of Oakland County said.
“Everybody remained in place,” the undersheriff, Michael McCabe, said at an afternoon conference. “They barricaded themselves.”
“You never think it’s going to happen to you,” Aiden said. “And then it does. It’s just insane.”
He said he always felt safe at the school, and he didn’t know the gunman or his motive.
He planned to return to the school, but it would take some time before he was ready.
“Definitely not like tomorrow or probably even not this week,” he said.
The deadly gunfire in Oxford, Mich., on Tuesday added one more episode to a growing list of fatal shootings on school property in the United States this year, following a lull in shootings earlier in the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the news outlet Education Week, there have been 28 school shootings resulting in injury or death so far in 2021, with 20 of them reported since Aug 1. The publication says that at least nine people have been killed by gunfire on school property this year, including two people who were shot by police officers.
Before Tuesday, none of the shootings in the publication’s list involved more than one death.
School shootings are tallied in different ways by different organizations, but the trends are similar. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group that uses news reports to track gunshots being fired on or into school property, recorded 138 such episodes in 2021 through mid-November.
The Everytown organization’s spokesman, Noah Levine, said that there were 32 reported incidents of gunfire on school grounds in September and another 32 in October, the most for a single month since the group began counting in 2013.
Last month, a shooting that the authorities said happened during a fight at a high school in Arlington, Texas, left four people injured.
In September, a student was fatally shot at his high school in Winston-Salem, N.C. In August, police officers fatally shot an 8-year-old girl outside of a high school football game in Sharon Hill, Pa., and a middle-school student killed another student in a lunchtime shooting in Albuquerque, N.M.
Large-scale shootings in all public places, not just schools, fell sharply in 2020. But other types of shootings — including homicides in which the killer knew the victim — appeared to have been more frequent in 2020 than in 2019. The Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an episode in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the perpetrator, counted 611 such shootings in 2020, compared with 417 the year before. The group’s tally for 2021 is already over 650, with a month left to go in the year.
Oxford High School is a public school in Oakland County, Mich, north of Detroit.
It is the only high school in the Oxford Community Schools district, which says that it offers families “a small town feel within the metro Detroit area.”
Less than 6,000 students across five townships and two villages in southeastern lower Michigan are enrolled in the overwhelmingly white district. The school offers a program where students can take college credits and earn an associate degree by graduation.
Once the location of a middle school, an architecture firm in neighboring Bloomfield Hills finished transforming the space into Oxford High School in 2004. Close to $40 million went into renovating the high school, which is now home to at least 33 classrooms, as well as a large gymnasium and a performing arts center.
The last time I was inside the walls of Oxford High School, it was for an active shooter drill.
I was a reporter then, for a local paper, and Oxford was where I had spent years as a student. It was more than a decade ago and such drills were relatively new at the time. I thought that taking part in one of them would be a compelling story — a way to show people what it might be like to live through a horrible moment.
Loud bangs were used to simulate gunshots. Smoke filled the halls. I ran with people into bathrooms; into classrooms. My heart beat loudly, even though I knew it was a drill. But that was the point of it.
After the real-life simulation, when I walked out of my former school, I remember thinking to myself: “God I hope this never happens here.”
I hate that today, it did.
Three teenage students were killed on Tuesday in the school district I graduated from. In the halls I used to walk. The classrooms where I struggled with math. The cafeteria that hosted after-school dances.
I was 13 years old when the Columbine massacre happened. I was in the eighth grade, in that building — back then, it was a middle school. I wish I could say that I remember details of that day, but I don’t. All I remember is fear that something like that could happen at my school.
Drills like the one I covered years ago have become commonplace at schools across the country, including at Oxford High School. Students interviewed after the shooting said that the school had had such a drill last month and Michael McCabe, the Oakland County undersheriff, said that even though there had been a detailed plan in place to respond to such a tragedy, “you never think it’s going to happen where you live.”