Roy Exum: Albom On Oxford

Monday, December 6, 2021 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I never got to know Mitch Albom back in my sports writer days. We covered some of the same events but other than an occasional “How ya doin’?” the only thing we had in common was he worked at the Detroit Free Press and I was at the Chattanooga News-Free Press. Then Mitch entered our hearts in 1967 with the wonderful book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” and, man, he was off to the races.

It was his first non-sports book and the only reason he wrote it was to help his dying professor with his medical costs. True story. He got 20,000 copies printed, hoping enough of them would sell. At last count the book has been sold 14 million times in 45 languages.

Mitch has become a prolific author, selling 39 million copies of his now numerous books and his newest, “The Stranger in the Lifeboat” is another I am eager to read.

All the while, Albom has clung to his newspaper roots as a columnist for the Detroit newspaper. In this Sunday’s editions, he wrote of the tragic school shooting from earlier in the week at Michigan’s Oxford High, which is a quick 45-minute drive from where Mitch lives. This column is one every educator must read … note where Albom writes, “there have already been 144 incidents of gunfire on school grounds this year alone. Twenty-eight deaths. Eighty-six injuries.”

There have been cases in Chattanooga where students – children – have brought guns to school. Albom’s insight of what happened in his backyard should be a wake-up call for our nation.

* * *

THE ECHO OF PREVENTABLE GUN SHOTS AT OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL WILL BE HEARD FOREVER

By Mitch Albom, The Detroit Free Press

When an Oxford police deputy saw a 16-year-old football player crumpled on the floor, bleeding and dying from the bullets that Ethan Crumbley is accused of firing, he knew he couldn’t wait for an ambulance. So he made a fast decision. He carried the teen to his patrol car and sped desperately toward the hospital, trying to stop the horror that was unfolding in his vehicle.

He couldn’t do it. The young man died anyhow.

What does that officer do with that memory?

Another teenager was in the bathroom when Crumbley, only 15, allegedly shot a schoolmate named Justin Shilling in the head. That second teenager ran out the door, escaping a fate that Shilling could not.

What does the surviving kid do with that image?

Four families sent their bright and promising teenagers to high school last Tuesday morning with every expectation they would come home that afternoon and be here today, tomorrow, next week and when Christmas arrives later this month.

What do they do with those expectations now?

The bang of a bullet is the sound of pressure being released. It’s over in an instant. Then the real pressure begins. The real pressure is the way that bullet keeps flying around your life, a pounding force that won’t let you sleep at night, that makes your hands shake while holding your coffee, that leaves you inexplicably heaving for breath and shatters and re-shatters your already shattered heart.

That pressure, that banging bullet, is flying all over Oxford now. On Friday night, a stalwart group of citizens gathered there and held a vigil. They vowed, loudly, that their town would rise above the four dead and seven wounded in the hallways of their previously normal high school.

“We will not be defined by the tragedy,” a chaplain told the crowd.

But it will be defined by them.

Maybe it's time for an overreaction

The name Oxford is no different than the name Sandy Hook now, or Charlottesville or Columbine, places instantly associated with unimaginable horror, where kids live with haunted dreams and parents live with permanent holes in their hearts. What Crumbley and his enabling parents are charged with having done to this community is horrific and permanent, as devastating as an atom bomb, as tough to remove as a bloodstain.

And yes, I said his parents, because when grown-ups buy handguns as a “Christmas present” for underaged kids and send “you have to learn not to get caught” messages when their son is discovered shopping for ammunition on his phone during class, and when they are called to an emergency meeting at the school because their son drew an image of a gun and a wounded person and the words “blood everywhere” and “my life is useless” and “help me” and yet they don’t think he needs to go home with them, and they don’t even offer the information that just a few days earlier they bought a new pistol into the house that their son posted as “my new beauty” — then yes, in my view, they are culpable, just as the Oakland County prosecutor indicated in charging them with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.

According to the Oakland County prosecutor's office, a social media post from Ethan Crumbley shows heart emojis next to a photo of a gun with the words: "Just got my new beauty today."

And for those who say “How can you charge the kid as an adult and then say the parents are also responsible?” the answer is simple: adults enabling adults to commit crimes get charged all the time. It’s called “accessory.”

If all this strikes some as overreaction, well, what else can you do but overreact? As long as America remains a place where you can’t come down hard on gun ownership, it must be a place where you come down crazy hard on protection.

Will enough ever be enough?

So overreact. Err mightily on the side of caution. When a teacher catches a kid shopping for ammunition or sees a drawing that says “the voices won’t stop” and “help me,” there should be no hesitating. That kid needs to be out of school immediately. And stay out at least until whatever demons led to those scribbles are dealt with.

Keep children alive. That is so obviously the top priority of a high school that it should go without saying. This is not the first, second, fifth or 10th school shooting this year. According to the website Everytown for Gun Safety, there have already been 144 incidents of gunfire on school grounds this year alone. Twenty-eight deaths. Eighty-six injuries.

The cold winds did not discourage community members from bringing flowers and praying at a makeshift memorial at Oxford High School Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, after four students were shot dead and several injured when a fellow student allegedly opened fire on the students and teachers at the school earlier in the week.

So, yes, overreact. Overprotect. Isn’t prevention worth it? You can’t board a plane with a dull kitchen knife. If you joke about having a “bomb” in an airport, you can be arrested.

Why then can’t you be immediately removed from school at the first sign of violent tendencies? Would we rather have what happened in Oxford keep happening?

Consider all those adults in the room the morning of the shooting, with the 15-year-old Crumbley sitting there, his scribbled cry for help on the paper, and no one thought to open his backpack? No one thought to search for something with which this clearly disturbed child might do harm? Instead they sent him back to class?

That can’t happen. The norm must be to assume the worst. Complete and immediate investigation. If that means challenging kids’ privacy rights, challenge them. If it means metal detectors and locked doors at every one of the more than 110,000 high schools and elementary in this country, well, perhaps that time has come — whatever the cost. We’re spending trillions now for what some politicians claim is a fairer future. How can such a future not include assuring kids return home alive from high school?

A 15-year-old sits in a jail cell today. His parents — found hiding in a warehouse in the wee hours of Saturday morning — were arraigned in separate rooms of the same jail and, as of this writing, remain there as well. Who knows what thoughts are running through their minds? Perhaps they are filled with regret.

But what do they do with those regrets now? What do the teens who ran from the shooting do with their returning flashes of that bloody afternoon? What do the police who encountered all that carnage do with those mental images? What do the grieving brothers and sisters do with the empty chairs and new silence around the dinner table?

When Ethan Crumbley emerged from that bathroom with his Christmas present in his hand and started shooting, as prosecutors say he did, he didn’t just shoot up a hallway, he shot up the school system, the town, its future graduation ceremonies, and every December to come for those who live there. We can say, “It has to stop.” We should scream, “It has to stop!” But for Oxford, it’s too late.

The bang of a bullet is over in an instant. But the damn thing keeps flying around, putting holes in people’s lives. And its echo goes on forever.

- - -

Contact Mitch Albom: malbom@freepress.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.

* * *

royexum@aol.com


How Pelosi’s Visit Proves Everyone Has A Stake In The US-Taiwan Partnership

Honoring Claude Ramsey And Dalton Roberts Is Long Overdue

Is Chattanooga Running Out Of Ideas?


Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to go to Taiwan wasn’t crazy or foolish. There’s a reason that 26 Republican senators reached across the aisle to show support for someone long-considered their ... (click for more)

I am so grateful that County Attorney Rheubin Taylor and others are honoring our former County Mayors Claude Ramsey and Dalton Roberts. It goes without saying that this is long overdue. I have ... (click for more)

It seems every time we need an anchor for a new area added to the RiverCity footprint, we move a stadium. Is Chattanooga running out of ideas? The baffling unanimity of the city council on the ... (click for more)



Opinion

How Pelosi’s Visit Proves Everyone Has A Stake In The US-Taiwan Partnership

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to go to Taiwan wasn’t crazy or foolish. There’s a reason that 26 Republican senators reached across the aisle to show support for someone long-considered their political adversary. Pelosi’s visit highlights that it’s more than just principles on the line--it’s the entire global order. Pelosi stated there were three main pillars to this US-Taiwan ... (click for more)

Honoring Claude Ramsey And Dalton Roberts Is Long Overdue

I am so grateful that County Attorney Rheubin Taylor and others are honoring our former County Mayors Claude Ramsey and Dalton Roberts. It goes without saying that this is long overdue. I have seen the Bredesen-Ramsey interchange near Volkswagen Drive, but Claude certainly deserves additional recognition for his contributions to our county. As for Dalton, I have pushed for years ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Couple Shot In Hixson As They Lay In Bed Early Thursday Morning

Chattanooga Police said two people were shot early Thursday morning as they lay in bed at their residence in Hixson. At 1:30 a.m., Chattanooga Police responded to a shooting at 4900 Lavender Trail. Police were advised that two people suffering from non-life threatening injuries had driven themselves to a local hospital for treatment. They were a man 22 and a woman 26. ... (click for more)

Biden Administration Announces $25 Million for Wilcox Bridge, $14.6 Milllion To Dunlap For Highway 127 Intersection Improvement

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Thursday announced that the Biden-Harris Administration has awarded $63 million to support three projects in Tennessee from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program to help move forward on projects that modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, and intermodal transportation and ... (click for more)

Sports

WindStone Chosen As Host Site For 2022 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Regional

Twelve golf facilities across the nation, including WindStone in Ringgold, Ga., have been named host sites for the 2022 National Car Rental PGA Jr. League Regionals taking place in September. Nearly 200 teams of junior golfers ages 10-17 will enjoy two days of competition. Through PGA Jr. League, kids ages 17 and under learn and play golf on co-ed teams, wear numbered jerseys ... (click for more)

UTC Football Fall Practice Preview

Palpable excitement filled the air this past Tuesday evening at Finley Stadium. As players in various states of undress poured out from a pair of school buses and into the locker room, equipment managers and assistant coaches scurried to set up equipment. The hits of Drake, Future, and other rap stars began to play from the stadium’s loudspeakers as players, now uniformly outfitted ... (click for more)