OXFORD CHARTER TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Students at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit rushed 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 sophomore at the school had shot 11 people, killing three of his fellow students and leaving others with critical injuries.
The authorities identified the dead as Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and Tate Myre, 16, who died in a sheriff’s squad car while on the way to a hospital. The injured students ranged in age from 14 to 17, officials said, including three who were in critical condition and another who was in serious condition. The only adult who was shot, a 47-year-old teacher, had been discharged from a hospital.
“I was just kind of sitting there shaking,” said Dale Schmalenberg, 16, who said he was in calculus class when his teacher heard a gunshot and locked down the classroom. “I didn’t really know how to respond.”
The rampage at Oxford High School, north of Detroit in Oakland County, was the deadliest shooting on school property this year, according to Education Week, which tracks such shootings and has reported 28 of them in 2021.
Students described frantically hiding in classrooms and fleeing from the school after long minutes of terror. Shaken parents rushed to a local grocery store to reunite with their children. Officials across the country issued statements of sadness and frustration, as area residents announced a vigil and prepared for funerals.
“It’s devastating,” said Tim Throne, the Oxford Community Schools superintendent.
The authorities received the first of more than a hundred 911 calls about the shooting at 12:51 p.m. on Tuesday, Michael McCabe, the Oakland County undersheriff, said. Officials said the gunman fired 15 to 20 shots with a semiautomatic handgun before being apprehended.
On Tuesday evening, a suspect — a male student at the school whom officials did not identify — was being held at a juvenile jail while the authorities served a search warrant at his family’s house in the village of Oxford, Mich.
Undersheriff McCabe said the suspect, who had been in class earlier Tuesday, “gave up without any problems.” When the boy’s parents went to a sheriff’s substation, they declined to let investigators question their child.
The authorities said that they did not believe that the student had planned the shooting with anyone else and that they were still investigating whether it was a random or targeted shooting.
The county sheriff, Michael Bouchard, said that a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun used in the shooting had been bought four days earlier by the suspect’s father. Sheriff Bouchard said the gunman was still armed, with seven bullets in the gun, when he was arrested by deputies in a school hallway. Sheriff Bouchard said investigators had been told the gunman pretended to be an officer in order to access barricaded classrooms.
In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer described gun violence as a “public health crisis,” adding: “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.”
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.”
The shooting brought outpourings of sympathy from Michigan politicians. The state’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, said her office had reached out to the local authorities and offered to assist with the investigation.
“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,” Ms. Nessel said. “Our kids deserve better.”
Elissa Slotkin, who represents Oxford Charter Township in Congress, said she was traveling back to the state.
“We must continue to pray and hope for the additional students and teacher who have been injured, and for the students who are in shock right now,” Ms. Slotkin said on Twitter. “They will somehow have to make sense of one of their peers doing this to them.”
Undersheriff McCabe said the school 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 lockdown drills. The undersheriff said one of the deputies who helped take the suspect into custody was assigned to patrol the high school full time.
“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 a 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 undersheriff said the “school did everything right.”
“Everybody remained in place,” he said. “They barricaded themselves.”
Students described moments of chaos, the sound of gunshots and people running and screaming. One student said his brother texted him, saying that he needed help and that a gunman was close by. But the students also described scenes inside classrooms where teachers and students swiftly followed the protocols.
Brendan Becker, 17, said the teacher in his classroom responded quickly to the sound of gunshots, locking the door with the students inside. “We just bombarded the door with a bunch of chairs, desks, everything we could find,” he said.
Alysse Avey, a freshman, said she had been in a biology class, laughing with friends when the shots rang out. “I went from laughing to crying in about a second,” she said. She said she huddled in a corner of the classroom with one of her closest friends, who was shaking.
“It was really traumatic,” she said, recalling the sound of gunshots making a noise that sounded like banging on the lockers. “No one talked, we didn’t scream or anything, we were just silent,” she said.
In recent weeks, a severed deer head was found on school grounds, after which school officials released a statement seeking to calm “numerous rumors that have been circulating throughout our building.” Undersheriff McCabe said that the deer incident was unrelated to the shooting.
Sheriff Bouchard said he was aware of reports that rumors had circulated at Oxford High in the days before the shooting, but said none of those reports had reached his department.
The violence in Michigan comes after a reduction in school shootings earlier in the coronavirus pandemic, when some schools held classes remotely. But mass shootings at schools have been a recurring tragedy in recent years. In 2018, a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Later that year, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas.
“This is a uniquely American problem that we need to address,” Ms. Whitmer said on Tuesday.
Located in Oxford Charter Township, a small community in northern Oakland County, Oxford High School 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.”
Fewer than 6,000 students across five townships and two villages in southeastern lower Michigan are enrolled in the district. The school offers a program where students can take college credits and earn an associate degree by graduation.
Aiden Page, a senior who had been in the school as the shooting occurred, recalled how his statistics 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.
Reporting was contributed by Christine Chung, Maria Cramer, Claire Fahy, Jacey Fortin, Dana Goldstein, Giulia Heyward, Eduardo Medina and Jim Tankersley.