MARYSVILLE — A lawsuit filed this week on behalf of the families of the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting victims hinges on the credibility of a substitute teacher’s story of an unheeded warning — an account discredited by detectives.
The lawsuit was filed against the Marysville School District and the shooter’s father, Raymond Fryberg.
It alleges that school officials could have prevented the shooting and seeks unspecified damages. It was filed in Snohomish County Superior Court by Julie Kays and Lincoln Beauregard, attorneys with Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma.
“As agents and employees of the Marysville School District … the involved teachers and staff failed to take reasonable steps and/or precautions to provide for the safety of the students on the day of the shooting,” the lawsuit said.
The school district sent a letter to the law firm March 7 saying it was denying a $110 million damage claim filed in January as a precursor to the lawsuit.
Pat Buchanan, an attorney representing the district, wrote that the families’ lawyers were misplacing blame.
“Contrary to your assertions, there simply is no evidence the district knew or should have known that Jaylen Fryberg, or any other student, would engage in a shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School on Oct. 24, 2014,” she wrote.
The suit relies on statements made by Rosemary Cooper, a substitute teacher who insisted she was told about the shooting in advance by a student, and that she warned the school district.
When interviewed by detectives, Cooper’s stories repeatedly changed, records show. Investigators determined she wasn’t credible and there was no evidence supporting her story. She claimed that students who heard about a coming shooting were laughing about it. She also said the students had been making fun of her on their cellphones.
The families’ lawyers say that Cooper’s story likely varied because she felt guilty for not properly reporting the supposed rumor. Cooper’s husband “corroborated his wife’s statements and it is likely that she is telling the whole truth,” the lawsuit says.
The school district’s lawyers said the countywide team of detectives who investigated the school shootings “determined there was no basis to substantiate Ms. Cooper’s version of events,” and that she “essentially retracted the majority of her story.”
Detectives also interviewed the boy who Cooper said had warned her.
“The student repeatedly denied making any comments about the threat of a school shooting, and he denied that he had any knowledge of the shooting before it occurred,” school district attorneys wrote. Instead, he told detectives he’d apologized to Cooper for classmates making fun of her by sharing altered photos of her on their phones.
After the detectives’ investigation was released, Cooper again claimed she’d received a warning when reporters interviewed her.
The lawyers representing the families Wednesday cited an interview Cooper gave to one TV station as rebuttal to the district’s response.
The families bringing the lawsuit are those of Andrew Fryberg, Zoe Galasso, Gia Soriano and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, who were killed, and Nate Hatch, who survived a gunshot to the jaw. Jaylen Fryberg took his own life after killing his friends in a cafeteria at the high school.
The suit also names as a defendant Raymond Fryberg, Jaylen’s father and the owner of the gun that was used. He was convicted in September of illegally possessing multiple firearms, including the gun used at the high school. Raymond Fryberg was the subject of a 2002 protection order in Tulalip Tribal Court that forbade him from owning guns.
In February, Fryberg began his sentence at the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security prison in southern California. His expected release date is Nov. 11, 2017.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.