OXFORD, Michigan—As the deadly chaos of a mass shooting unfolded at a Michigan high school Tuesday, an 11-year-old student found out from TikTok that someone claiming to be with local sheriff had tried to coax terrified students out of the safety of a classroom. The student fled, believing the person identifying himself as a deputy was a threat. The sheriff later said it had, in fact, been a plainclothes officer on the other side of the classroom door.
On Wednesday, authorities identified the shooter as 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley, who is now facing two dozen charges after opening fire at Oxford High School. During the rampage, Crumbley killed three people and wounded seven more. A fourth victim died of his injuries the next day.
In the video, Oxford High School students are seen crouching down among their desks. On the wall near the closed door of the classroom hangs a “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. A voice from behind the door says, “Sheriff’s office. It’s safe to come out.” But a student replies, “We’re not willing to take that risk right now.” The person on the other side responds, “Come to the door and look at my badge, bro.”
The purported deputy’s casual lingo had the opposite effect of easing tensions: “Bro” sent the students in the classroom running. One student says in the video, “He said ‘bro.’ Red flag.” The students frantically evacuate through a window and run to another building where a police officer tells them, “Slow down, you’re fine.” Local outlet Fox 2 spoke to the father of the student who recorded the footage and confirmed it as authentic.
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard insisted that while the incident was premeditated, Crumbley never claimed to be a local sheriff's deputy as the viral video of the horrific incident suggests. The person on the other side of the door was plainclothes deputy using casual language.
“The video was disseminated rather while widely that showed the students in a classroom and depicted someone knocking on the door. And pretty much the allegation was that that was the suspect,” Bouchard said Wednesday. “We’ve now been able to determine that was not the suspect.”
Bouchard noted that the detective was probably speaking in a “conversational manner to try to bring them down from the crisis.” He added that analysis of the video shows it was taken around the same time Crumbley was taken into custody, meaning the suspect “never knocked on a door.”
But for Mariah, an Oxford Middle School student who spent the day in lockdown, the video was enough to cause panic. She said she watched several of the videos posted on in her friends’ Snapchat Stories and TikToks from inside the high school while in lockdown and spent much of the afternoon rewatching them.
“Now you’ll see them go out the window” she said, narrating along as she replayed the video of the classroom confrontation in the passenger seat of her mom’s car Tuesday evening. One image that stuck with her was at the end of the footage, she said—after the students had escaped through a window and some had reached another door “and there’s a police officer there saying, ‘You’re safe now.’”
Crumbley is now facing 24 charges for the incident, including first-degree murder and terrorism. The victims were Tate Myre, 17, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Justin Shilling, 17, and Hana St. Juliana, 14. Myre died in a deputy’s vehicle as an officer tried to rush him to the hospital because his wounds were so severe, the sheriff said Tuesday night. Crumbley surrendered to a deputy at the school minutes after the violence started, and police recovered a semi-automatic handgun that had been purchased on Black Friday by the suspect’s father.
Jennifer N., who lives in an apartment complex adjacent to the high school and asked that only her first name be used, said she was with her toddler leaving her home for the grocery store when she noticed some teenagers jumping over the fence that separates her complex from the school. Her initial thought was they must have been students skipping class. Then as she was driving out of the parking lot, she noticed another group of children running down the sidewalk and others taking cover behind bushes.
“I couldn’t figure out why they would hide from me. I’m just a neighbor,” she recalled. Then, after making the turn out of the apartment complex and into the nearby Meijer grocery store, she suddenly saw hundreds of students running from the school grounds and realized something was seriously wrong.
“Some [were] without shoes, some throwing up, most on phones and crying,” she explained on Tuesday evening. In the parking lot, she learned from a female student that there had been a shooting at the high school. “I immediately thought of friends and neighbors at the high school… the second she said that to me sirens from all directions were flooding in… Right then I knew it was bad. It all seemed like a movie.”
“I wished I could fit them all in my car. There were hundreds,” Jennifer said. “This close community will grieve and hold each other but things… unfortunately have changed. All ages will be scarred forever.”
NOTE: This story has been updated to include comments from Sheriff Michael Bouchard that the person trying to gain access to the Oxford High School classroom was a plainclothes officer.