HOUGHTON — On Tuesday, Nov. 30, people across Michigan and the United States were horrified to learn that a school shooting had occurred in Oxford, a suburb of Detroit.
As more details emerged, the world learned that a 15-year old sophomore at Oxford High School had opened fire on his fellow students, killing four people and leaving seven more wounded.
This tragedy was mourned by communities across the nation, including those here in the Copper Country. No one felt the impact of this calamity as deeply as the college students and community members who have friends and family at Oxford High School.
Mat Garner is a Michigan Tech student who graduated from Oxford High in 2020. When Mat learned what had happened at his alma mater, he knew that he needed to do something to help.
“I want to spread awareness about how to help the families in Oxford,” he told the Gazette during a phone interview. “I know there are other Oxford graduates at Michigan Tech and up here as well. Some Tech students had siblings in at the time, I had friends back at the school.”
“So, I’m just trying to do my best to help, because it’s not like we can go down there to help them, or attend the funerals and vigils,” he explained.
Mat worked with Michigan Tech administrators to organize a “Blue and Gold Day” on Friday Dec. 10. Students and faculty wore blue and gold, the Oxford School colors, to show support for the community. Mat also helped to organize a moment of silence to remember the victims of the shooting at Michigan Tech’s Friday night hockey game.
In addition to the Michigan Tech events, Mat reached out to the Gazette to share some of his experiences processing the tragedy, and to encourage Copper Country residents to support the Oxford community.
“It’s just names on paper until it happens to you,” he said. “Once it happens to you, it’s surreal. You don’t process how truly horrific it is until your friend is telling you that there’s a shooter and he can’t get a hold of his brother.”
“My community is a small town and everyone is so nice. No one would have expected this to happen,” he added.
For Oxford High alumni like Mat, it is especially difficult to hear about the tragedy from afar. Fellow Oxford High graduate and first year Tech student Mayli Hurin reflected on being unable to return to her home community after the shooting.
“A lot of my friends are at colleges that are within a few hours from home. So, after everything happened, they were able to reach out to their teachers and go home to see each other and see family,” she said during a separate interview. “But being nine hours away from home, it’s a lot more difficult to just pack up and go home for the week while classes are still happening.”
“I desperately wanted to be able to be there for everyone that was in that situation. But there’s only so much that I could do from afar, and I just had to accept the fact that the little that I was able to do had to be enough.”
Mayli graduated from Oxford High in 2021, and has friends still attending the school. She described the confusion and worry that she experienced in the aftermath of the shooting, as she and other Oxford graduates scoured news sites for information and tried to piece together exactly what had happened at their old school.
She also described the trauma and heartache that her community is now experiencing.
“For the four classes of students that are currently in the high school, I don’t think that the rest of their high school career is ever going to be the same. I don’t think that they will be able to step into that building without remembering what happened,” she said. “Time heals wounds. I feel like things will get better, but I don’t think they can ever go back to how it was before.”
While it has been difficult for Mayli to be seperated from her community, she expressed gratitude for the support that she has received from friends, professors and administrators at Michigan Tech.
“Everyone has been more than kind and loving, which I genuinely appreciate,” she said. “I wore my blue and gold on Friday, and throughout the week I was wearing Oxford gear. I know a lot of my friends from home were doing the same at their schools.”
Both Mat and Mayli fondly remember the formative years that they spent at Oxford High School.
“I went to Oxford Schools from fifth grade through graduation. So, it wasn’t my whole life, but it was a very influential part of my life,” said Mayli. “So that place is my home, and I love them all. I know the phrases ‘Oxford strong’ and ‘once a Wildcat always a Wildcat’ have been going around. I feel like they really do hold true.”
Mat reflected on the positive experiences that he had participating in academics and sports at the school. He recalled the names of some of his favorite teachers and coaches who helped him along the way.
“Everyone always jokes about their high school. But looking back, those were some of the best times. I made some of my best friends at Oxford,” he said.
Mat also discussed the many ways in which the Oxford community has pulled together, from a restaurant owner providing free meals to local families, to a surgeon performing free surgery for one of the students injured in the shooting.
“I love the support that’s going on in the community. You get people who are just being selfless, people in the local area just doing everything they can to help,” he said. “There’s a saying that we have at our high school, ‘once a Wildcat always a Wildcat,’ and as of today, everyone is a Wildcat.”
While both students are still grappling with the trauma and grief of this tragedy, they expressed love and encouragement for the Oxford community, and urged everyone here in the Copper Country to show support for those affected by the shooting.
“I would just say to stay on top of the news. If you can donate then donate, and raise awareness. Keep the names of the victims known, don’t let them be forgotten,” Mayli said. “It shouldn’t be remembered as just a story on the news. It should be remembered as people that are facing a tragedy, that kind of thing shouldn’t be forgotten.”
“We’ve got to do something. It doesn’t matter that we’re nine hours away, or that we’re in the Upper Peninsula,” said Mat. “I want to show everyone back home that it doesn’t matter where you are in Michigan or in the United States, we all care and we’re here to help.”
Donations to the Oxford community can be made online through the Oxford Bank. Additional information and resources to support the Oxford community are available at oxfordstrongcommunity.org.