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Oxford Community Schools hires firm to investigate mass shooting

Oxford Community Schools officials on Tuesday approved hiring a law firm and a consulting company to investigate and review the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School.

The board hired Guidepost Solutions, an investigations, regulatory compliance, monitoring and security consulting firm. The firm will perform an investigation and full review of what happened at the high school the day of the shooting and in the days leading up to the deadly attack.

Board President Tom Donnelly said the board has been committed to a thorough review of the shooting since its statement in December that it would launch a third-party investigation.

“We understand waiting for civil and criminal cases to end does not serve this community well,” Donnelly said. “We can’t wait any longer to get an independent understanding of what happened that day … and neither can you.”

The announcement comes about a week after Donnelly, the district’s top official, said a third-party review of Michigan’s deadliest school shooting wouldn’t be conducted until all litigation was resolved.

Trustee Dan D’Alessandro said it has been frustrating “for many” on the board that it has taken this long for it to decide on a third-party investigation.

“Our only path forward is the truth,” he said. “The only path forward to heal is to get the information back to you as quickly as we can.”

The global firm helped the University of Michigan develop its response to sexual assault complaints and address the culture of sexual misconduct surrounding accused faculty members. It was also hired by the sexual abuse task force of the Southern Baptist Convention to conduct an assessment and investigation into the mishandling of past sex crime claims.

Steve St. Juliana, father of Hana St. Juliana, who was killed in the attack, attended the board meeting and said a lot of details were missing about how the investigation will work.

“I’m thankful they’ve finally decided to follow through with their promise,” St. Juliana said. “My expectation is this will be a public report and fully transparent.”

Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for the district, said the school board earlier had received a recommendation to hire Guidepost from the new law firm, Varnum Attorneys at Law in Grand Rapids, which it also hired Tuesday to represent the district in investigations, reviews and litigation connected to the shooting.

The goal would be to issue a final report at the end of the investigation that is public, Bitely said of the proposed investigation. The cost of such an investigation and estimates on how long it would take were not available Tuesday.

Four Oxford High School students were killed in the shooting: Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17. Six students and a teacher were wounded.

According to a letter from attorney Ronald G. DeWaard, the Varnum law firm would perform legal services for the district at a rate of $210 to $670 per hour and work would include meetings, office and telephone conferences, legal research, preparation and review of correspondence and documents.

Donnelly announced the delay in any review of the shooting at the same time he said the district would also for the second time decline an offer for an independent investigation from Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.

He said at the time that Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald and Sheriff Michael Bouchard have information about the incident that the district doesn’t.

“It would be ill-advised for us to start a third-party investigation if we don’t know the facts,” Donnelly said last week.

McDonald, however, has since said “there is no reason to delay” an investigation of the shooting.

A school board subcommittee created to consider third-party review candidates held two public meetings this spring but has yet to formally recommend or present options to the full school board.

Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter lauded the board for the probe.

“I remain committed to supporting Oxford and applaud the Oxford School Board for launching an independent and transparent review of the horrific shooting at the high school on Nov. 30,” Coulter said. “Such a review is necessary and should help restore the trust and sense of security that Oxford students and families deserve.

“To truly heal as a community, we must all remain committed to listening and learning the important lessons that help prevent similar tragedies from happening again.”

jchambers@detroitnews.com

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