The first gunshots sent students at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit scrambling for cover and sending panicked texts to family members on Tuesday afternoon. Within five minutes, the authorities said, a sophomore at the school had shot 11 people, killing three fellow students.
The dead were a 16-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl.
“I think this is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on Tuesday evening at a news conference near the school in Oxford Charter Township, Mich.
Michael McCabe, the Oakland County undersheriff, said two of the wounded people were in surgery, in unknown condition, on Tuesday evening. Six others were in stable condition. One teacher was among the injured; the rest were students.
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 authorities received the first of more than a hundred 911 calls about the shooting at 12:51 p.m., Undersheriff McCabe said. He said the gunman “gave up without any problems” and was in custody within five minutes.
Dale Schmalenberg, 16, a junior at Oxford High School, said he was in calculus class when his teacher heard the first gunshot and immediately locked down the classroom. Everyone ran into a corner of the room and turned the lights off, he said. They were mostly silent, except for the sounds of panicked texting and crying, he said.
“I was just kind of sitting there shaking — I didn’t really know how to respond,” Dale said.
He said that Oxford High School took student safety seriously, with a no-weapons policy, consistent active shooter training and multiple security guards stationed at the school.
The gunman, whose name was not immediately released, fired 15 to 20 shots with a semiautomatic handgun, the authorities said.
Undersheriff McCabe said one of the deputies who helped take the gunman into custody was assigned to patrol the high school full time.
The gunman’s parents invoked his right not to speak and asked for a lawyer, Undersheriff McCabe said, and that it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to charge him as a juvenile or an adult. The authorities said they did not believe he had planned the shooting with anyone else. They said they were still investigating whether it was a random shooting or a targeted one.
“It’s a very tragic situation,” Undersheriff McCabe said.
The authorities were expected to provide more information at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday.
Tim Throne, the Oxford Community Schools superintendent, said that he was “shocked” by the shooting. “It’s devastating,” he said at an afternoon news conference.
Michael McCabe, the Oakland County undersheriff, said that the “school did everything right.”
“Everybody remained in place,” he said. “They barricaded themselves.”
After evacuating the school, the authorities said that they were doing a second and third search of the school, checking for more victims.
Footage from local television news coverage showed a heavy police presence, including sheriff’s deputies and Michigan state troopers, outside the school, which is about 40 miles north of Detroit.
Sheriff’s deputies carrying long guns patrolled the school grounds and emergency medical workers arrived in two helicopters. Emergency medical workers brought a stretcher into the building as at least a half-dozen ambulances waited in the parking lot.
“This afternoon there was an active shooter at Oxford High School,” Oxford Community Schools said in a statement, according to WDIV-TV, a local station. “Oakland County Sheriff’s Department has secured the scene.”
Students and staff members were “systematically being evacuated” to a nearby Meijer store, where they could be picked up, the school district said.
Bobby Maldonado, a spokesman for St. Joseph Mercy Oakland Hospital, said the hospital was treating one victim of the shooting. “Beyond that, I can’t provide descriptors out of respect for the family,” he said.
The deadly gunfire in Oxford, Mich., on Tuesday added one more episode to a growing list of fatal shootings on school property in the United States this year, following a lull in shootings earlier in the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the news outlet Education Week, there have been 28 school shootings resulting in injury or death so far in 2021, with 20 of them reported since Aug 1. The publication says that at least nine people have been killed by gunfire on school property this year, including two people who were shot by police officers.
Before Tuesday, none of the shootings in the publication’s list involved more than one death.
School shootings are tallied in different ways by different organizations, but the trends are similar. Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control advocacy group that uses news reports to track gunshots being fired on or into school property, recorded 138 such episodes in 2021 through mid-November.
The Everytown organization’s spokesman, Noah Levine, said that there were 32 reported incidents of gunfire on school grounds in September and another 32 in October, the most for a single month since the group began counting in 2013.
Last month, a shooting that the authorities said happened during a fight at a high school in Arlington, Texas, left four people injured.
In September, a student was fatally shot at his high school in Winston-Salem, N.C. In August, police officers fatally shot an 8-year-old girl outside of a high school football game in Sharon Hill, Pa., and a middle-school student killed another student in a lunchtime shooting in Albuquerque, N.M.
Large-scale shootings in all public places, not just schools, fell sharply in 2020. But other types of shootings — including homicides in which the killer knew the victim — appeared to have been more frequent in 2020 than in 2019. The Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an episode in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the perpetrator, counted 611 such shootings in 2020, compared with 417 the year before. The group’s tally for 2021 is already over 650, with a month left to go in the year.
Oxford High School is a public school in Oakland County, Mich, north of Detroit.
It 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.”
Less than 6,000 students across five townships and two villages in southeastern lower Michigan are enrolled in the overwhelmingly white district. The school offers a program where students can take college credits and earn an associate degree by graduation.
Once the location of a middle school, an architecture firm in neighboring Bloomfield Hills finished transforming the space into Oxford High School in 2004. Close to $40 million went into renovating the high school, which is now home to at least 33 classrooms, as well as a large gymnasium and a performing arts center.
From the moment that the authorities confirmed reports of a fatal shooting inside a Michigan high school on Tuesday, officials across the country expressed shock and Democratic leaders renewed their calls for more to be done to reduce gun violence.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said in a statement that she was “devastated for the students, teachers, staff, and families” of the school where the shooting occurred, Oxford High in Oakland County.
Calling gun violence a “public health crisis,” she added that “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.”
At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Whitmer, her voice breaking, said, “I think this is every parent’s worst nightmare.”
President Biden also offered condolences to the victims of the shooting.
“As we learn the full details, my heart goes out to the families enduring the unimaginable grief of losing a loved one,” he said, before speaking about infrastructure in Minnesota.
“That whole community has to be in a state of shock right now,” Mr. Biden added.
Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, said in a statement that his “heart goes out to the parents who have lost their children and to the students, teachers, staff, and families reeling from the tragedy of a school shooting within their community.”
Echoing Ms. Whitmer, she added that “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. Our kids deserve better.”
Rosemary Bayer, a state senator who represents the district that includes Oakland County, said in a statement that “the news of today’s school shooting at Oxford High School is simply horrifying.”
Mallory McMorrow, a Democratic state senator representing Royal Oak, said on Twitter that she was “at a loss of words, and I don’t want to hear ‘thoughts and prayers.’”
She added that “I want everyone in any position of authority to agree that easy access to firearms that allow children to kill other children is not an acceptable world to live in and that we will do everything to stop it.”
James Tankersley contributed reporting.