Insurer settles with families of MPHS shooting victims

MARYSVILLE — The Marysville School District’s insurance company has agreed to pay $18 million to the families of the children who were killed or injured in the 2014 shootings at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

The settlement was reached Friday. The court documents were provided to media Monday.

“I think this is a good thing for the families who fought for justice on behalf of their kids,” Tacoma attorney Julie Kays said Monday. “This is never going to bring back their child or, for Nate (Hatch) it’s not going to erase the horror of that day.”

Four young people were killed and a fifth was injured when a freshman opened fire inside a cafeteria Oct. 24, 2014. The teenage shooter then took his own life.

The lawsuit was filed in 2016 on behalf of the parents of Andrew Fryberg, Zoe Galasso, Gia Soriano and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, who were killed, and Nate Hatch, who survived a gunshot to the jaw.

Superintendent Becky Berg on Monday said the decision to settle was made by the district’s insurance company.

“We absolutely believe we did nothing wrong,” she said.

The school district had been dropped from the lawsuit earlier this year. Substitute teacher Rosemary Cooper, however, remained a defendant and as a school employee she was covered by the district’s insurance if her actions were deemed reasonable. The case was set to go to trial in October.

The lawsuit centered on Cooper’s evolving story about how she’d been warned about the impending violence before the shooter opened fire on friends as they sat at a lunch table in a crowded cafeteria.

Her claims came to the attention of detectives when the school district heard that Cooper had told friends at a church supper about having been warned a couple of days before the shootings.

Cooper first told investigators she shared the information with school staff in the office and wrote a note.

Her account was discredited by detectives who investigated the high school shootings. The detectives reported finding no evidence to support Cooper’s story, even after searching through the school’s trash for the note she claims to have left. They also tracked down the boy she claimed tipped her off.

School staff denied receiving a warning. They also said the person Cooper claimed to have told didn’t match the description of anyone working at the school. A janitor sifted through trash bins looking for Cooper’s note, without success.

The student who Cooper said warned her denied it happened. He told detectives he’d apologized to Cooper for how rowdy the class had been that day. Classmates had been making fun of the substitute teacher by sharing altered photos of her on their phones, he said.

When confronted by detectives, Cooper told them she “can’t be sure” that she actually received a warning, and perhaps was confused from watching so much TV coverage about the killings, records show.

In pleadings, Cooper’s attorneys acknowledged that about a year after the shootings she told a TV reporter that she had been warned but when she met with detectives later “they just didn’t want to hear the truth.”

The plaintiffs filed pleadings earlier this year suggesting that Cooper received a warning but didn’t report it to anyone. They pointed to her medical records, which were made public when they were attached as exhibits to the pleadings. Cooper was seeking help for depression and anxiety over the lawsuit.

She allegedly described being full of guilt for not alerting others at the school after claiming she was shown a text message or “post” regarding the shooter’s plans.

If such a post existed, it never became part of the police investigation. Detectives obtained the shooter’s texts and social media messages. He made references to ending his life, mostly in private messages to his former girlfriend. The investigation found that he didn’t make his plans clear until minutes before opening fire.

“Ultimately it would have been up to a jury to decide” if the teacher reported the warning or sat on the information, Kays said. “Either way, the ball was dropped and this could have been prevented.”

The district has maintained that there is no evidence supporting claims that it was forewarned. Nothing has changed, Berg said Monday.

“We first and foremost continue to grieve the lives lost and the lives forever changed. The families will forever be in our hearts,” Berg said.

“We remain steadfast in our support of the heroic actions of our staff that day. They saved many lives that day and that came at personal cost to many of them,” she said.

School staff did the right thing and what they were trained to do, Berg added.

The district will continue to focus on the safety, welfare and education of students. It also will continue to offer mental health services to those affected by the violence, she said.

The district was insured for a total amount of $20 million. The settlement and legal costs have consumed that amount.

“Any further lawsuits would affect the district’s bottom line,” and come directly out of the budget, Berg said.

In pleadings filed Monday, Beauregard wrote that the plaintiffs elected not to pursue amounts that would have eroded the district’s general budget or impacted classrooms.

“The facts of this case are tragic, and the errors that led to this lawsuit, substantial,” Beauregard wrote. “At the same time, the Marysville School District, Rosemary Cooper, and the assigned insurance representatives and attorneys handled this matter with great dignity and respect for the aggrieved families.”

Raymond Fryberg, the father of the shooter, remains named as a defendant. His gun was used in the shootings. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison for possessing a firearm. He was not allowed to have guns, the result of a 2002 domestic-violence protection order filed by a former girlfriend.

At the sentencing Assistant U.S. Attorney Ye-Ting Woo said that if Fryberg had not broken gun laws, “these families would not have lost their children, or have a child with deep psychological and emotional scars.”

Fryberg is scheduled to be released later this year.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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