‘Heartbroken’ parents of slain Oxford students pledge to fight for accountability after lawsuit was dismissed

‘I’m a junkyard dog,’ one father said. ‘We’re not going away.’

click to enlarge Justin Shilling, left, and Tate Myre were killed in the Nov. 30 mass shooting at Oxford High School. - Courtesy photos
Courtesy photos
Justin Shilling, left, and Tate Myre were killed in the Nov. 30 mass shooting at Oxford High School.

The parents of two children murdered in the mass shooting at Oxford High School in November 2021 said Tuesday they are not giving up on holding the school district and its employees accountable after a judge dismissed a lawsuit.

Their attorney, Ven Johnson, said he plans to appeal Oakland County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Brennan’s ruling Friday that governmental immunity shields all Oxford school employees and entities from civil lawsuits.

Jill Soave, the mother of 17-year-old Justin Shilling, who was among four students slain the shooting, said she was “heartbroken and devastated” by the ruling and is not giving up.

“We need everybody to be held accountable, and we are not going to stop until that happens,” Soave said at a news conference. “We are not going to get any peace to move forward, and I don’t care how long it takes, I’m going to keep fighting for justice. Justin’s life mattered.”

The then-15-year-old shooter Ethan Crumbley pleaded guilty in October to all 24 criminal charges, including terrorism causing death and first-degree murder, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The lawsuit alleges intentional, reckless, and negligent conduct by Crumbley’s parents, the school’s dean of students, two counselors, and three teachers. Crumbley is also named as a defendant.

In the days before the shooting, school officials and Crumbley’s parents failed to act despite a pattern of troubling behavior by the teenager. He told his mother he was seeing demons. A day before the shooting, he was caught at school searching for ammunition online. And on the day of the shooting, a teacher spotted his drawing that depicted a person who had been shot and the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Johnson said Crumbley was crying out for help and demonstrating dangerous behavior that should have prompted school officials to call the police.

Johnson plans to take the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals and argue that governmental immunity is unconstitutional and gives public employees more protections than everyone else.

In the meantime, Soave and the parents of Tate Myre, who was also killed in the shooting, are calling on residents to urge lawmakers to put an end to governmental immunity.

“They hide behind this umbrella law, and we can’t even question a damn thing,” Buck Myre, the father of Tate Myre, said. “It’s unfair and a double standard.”

When Myre was a coach for youth sports, he said he taught his athletes to never give up because “you get kicked in the teeth every day.”

“I’m going to fight,” he said. “I’m a junkyard dog. We’re not going away.”

In Michigan, governmental immunity dates back to the 1960s, when lawmakers enacted the Governmental Tort Liability Act, which made it difficult to hold public employees accountable in lawsuits.

As the state government lurched to the right in the 1980s, the state’s courts became dominated by conservatives, who have traditionally upheld governmental immunity. During Republican John Engler’s three terms as governor, for example, he appointed nearly 225 judges and justices.

The idea behind government immunity is that public employees should be able to do their jobs without the fear of lawsuits and expensive litigation. But that doctrine has backfired on residents who have been victimized by negligent cops and other public employees.

Chris Desmond, an attorney for Ven Johnson Law, said he expects the case will ultimately be decided by the Michigan Supreme Court. The goal, he said, is to put an end to governmental immunity.

“We are looking at a long road ahead in the appellate court where parents are going to have to feel the pain that governmental immunity inflicted on them,” Desmond said. “We’re hoping we can make a significant impact and change in the law so other families don’t have to go through these tragedies.”

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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