Midland Superintendent Breaks Down Security Measures

Midland Public Schools

This article originally appeared on Midland Daily News. To view the original article, click here.

In March 2020, an active shooter drill was planned to be held on a Saturday at Midland High School, before COVID caused all school buildings in Michigan to close and the drill was put on hold.

MPS Superintendent Michael Sharrow says the drill will still take place at some point, depending on COVID numbers. An unfortunate reminder of the reason for such an event came early Tuesday afternoon, when 15-year-old sophomore Ethan Crumbley allegedly shot and killed four students and wounded seven other people at Oxford High School, about 100 miles southeast of Midland.

According to The Associated Press, Crumbley on Wednesday was charged as an adult with murder, terrorism and other charges. Investigators said Crumbley was armed with a semi-automatic handgun purchased last week by his father.

“Every time there is (a school shooting), you’re so fearful of kids getting bad ideas (of doing the same thing),” Sharrow told the Daily News on Tuesday. “(After the shooting), we immediately sent out a notice to our principals to make sure we were following our safety protocols.”

“It’s a tragic day for everybody in America, but certainly when it’s right in our backyard,” he continued.

In terms of safety in the MPS school buildings, Sharrow said when he was hired in 2013, he observed that some schools had doors propped open on a warm day, one symptom of what he saw as an overall lack of security. Two years later, the major MPS bond that was passed by voters had school safety as one of its four pillars.

Since then, all school buildings have been updated to have only one public entryway, which is within view of the school office personnel, who have the wherewithal to lock out anyone they deem suspicious. And any non-staff member who enters a building can go no further than the office without first having the interior entrance unlocked by office personnel.

“You cannot be anywhere near our buildings without being under camera surveillance,” Sharrow said.

In addition, all MPS staff and school resource officers are trained in ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate), an active shooter preparedness program that has been taught to about 19 million people in all 50 states. And each school is required by law to conduct three security drills each year.

MPS also implemented the Raptor Visitor Management System to thoroughly screen visitors to schools, and reinforced classroom doors with 3/8-inch-thick steel barricades to prevent entry in case of an active shooter.

Yet with all this said, Sharrow admitted that even the most physically fortified schools cannot be guaranteed to stop a shooter.

“The truth is, almost every school has these (kinds of security measures) in place, and still it happened (in Oxford),” he said.

MPS itself experienced a school shooting in March 2007 in a parking lot outside Dow High School. A 17-year-old male, who was not a student there, shot a 17-year-old female Dow student four times before shooting himself fatally in the head. The female survived.

Schools must be diligent in taking steps to prevent a shooting from taking place to begin with, Sharrow said.

“We put all these pieces in on the preparation side,” Sharrow said. “But the truth is, in almost every (school shooting) case, it still is somebody who is not mentally well.”

MPS has four School Resource Officers from the Midland Police Department, he noted, a significant part of whose work is building relationships and trust with students and staff. This trust creates the potential of the SRO being alerted about someone’s plans to cause harm — a scenario that actually played out for MPS a few years ago, according to Sharrow.

“A few years back, a student had a gun hidden near a school campus. Another student informed the SRO about it, and the assistant principal was able to go out and locate that gun,” Sharrow explained.

He said another way that the schools collaborate with law enforcement is, when a police officer or sheriff’s deputy conducts a wellness check at a student’s home, they may issue a “handle with care” notice to the student’s principal. Without revealing any details, this lets the school know the student has been through a stressful time at home and needs extra support at school.

Along the same line, the MPS board of education and administration sent out an email Tuesday night that encouraged the MPS community to use resources that are available if they feel in need of help.

“Across our state, schools participate in the OK2Say program. Additionally, there are mental health resources designed to support a variety of challenges experienced by people of all ages. We encourage our students, families and community to use these resources when needed.”

The email also recommended resources for families wishing to talk with their children about the shooting: the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) website and the Johns Hopkins site for K-2 grade and 3-5 grade safety in schools.

The email opened with a message of support for the Oxford community.

“Today, we share our deepest sympathy and support for the students, staff and families of Oxford Community Schools,” the email reads. “We cannot begin to imagine the pain the Oxford community feels this evening following the active shooter situation reported earlier from Oxford High School. Our hearts are heavy with the weight of such a loss and our prayers are with those left injured.”

The Associated Press reported that authorities said they were searching Crumbley’s cellphone, school video footage, and social media posts.

“The person that’s got the most insight and the motive is not talking,” Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said late Tuesday at a news conference.

Deputies rushed to the school around lunch time and arrested Crumbley in a hallway within minutes. He put his hands in the air as deputies approached, Bouchard said.

The boy’s father on Friday bought the 9 mm Sig Sauer used in the shooting, Bouchard said. He did not know why the man bought the semiautomatic handgun, which his son had been posting pictures of and practicing shooting, Bouchard said.

The four students who were killed were identified as 16-year-old Tate Myre, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, and 17-year-old Justin Shilling, who died Wednesday.

Bouchard said Myre died in a patrol car as a deputy tried to get him to an emergency room.

A teacher who received a graze wound to the shoulder left the hospital, but seven students ranging in age from 14 to 17 remained hospitalized through the night with gunshot wounds, Bouchard said.

The gun that Crumbley was carrying had seven more rounds of ammo in it when he surrendered, Bouchard said.

Undersheriff Mike McCabe said Crumbley’s parents advised their son not to talk to investigators. Police must seek permission from a juvenile’s parents or guardian to speak with them, he added.

McCabe downplayed the significance of a situation in early November when a deer’s head was thrown off the school roof, which he said was “absolutely unrelated” to the shooting. The incident prompted school administrators to post two letters to parents on the school’s website, saying they were responding to rumors of a threat against the school but had found none.

Bouchard said the student in custody in the shooting had no previous run-ins with his department, and he was not aware of any disciplinary history at school.

“That’s part of our investigation: to determine what happened prior to this event and if some signs were missed, how were they missed and why,” he said.

The district said in a statement that all schools would be closed for the rest of the week.