The 15-year-old boy who allegedly opened fire, killing at least four students at the Oxford High School in Michigan, was charged with terrorism on Wednesday.
Ethan Crumbley was also charged with four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
The accused was charged under the state's 2002 anti-terrorism law, which was enacted in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The anti-terrorism law defines a terroristic act as one intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to affect the conduct of a government through intimidation or coercion.
“It's not a usual, a typical charge," Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said. She said Mr Crumbley would be charged as an adult.
"What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now, who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school," Ms McDonald asked.
She added those students, their families and the community are victims of the violence as well and the terrorism charge reflects that.
Michigan, unlike some states with their own anti-terrorism laws, has a broader definition beyond pressuring or retaliating against the government with violence.
Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard said he “100 per cent” backs the terrorism charge against the accused.
“If you weren't hit by a bullet, it doesn't mean you weren't terrorised that day and won't have nightmares about (it) the rest of your life — whether you're a parent, a teacher or a student in that class,” he said.
The Michigan attorney general's office for the first time issued a terrorism charge in 2012 after a man was apprehended for firing shots from his car at about two-dozen vehicles along the Interstate 96 corridor.
According to Matthew Schneider, a former United States attorney, the anti-terrorism law has been conventionally used to charge people making terroristic threats, such as calling in bomb threats.
“This is why we have this law. It's for this type of case. This is not just a murder case. It's going to terrorize a generation of these kids who were in the school. The impact is on thousands of people," Mr Schneider said.
He added that lawmakers who enacted the law were thinking of terrorism in the traditional sense following the 9/11 attacks. “But since that time it's been used for other things. That doesn't mean that it's being used improperly because it fits the elements. It fits the language of the statute," the former attorney said.
Tuesday's rampage is touted to be the deadliest shooting at a United States K-12 school since 2018. However, in the Florida massacre, where 17 people were shot dead, the shooter was not charged with terrorism.
Mr Crumbley faces life in prison on both the terrorism and murder counts if he is found guilty. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The accused was taken into custody for opening fire at the school in Oxford Township, a community of about 22,000 people that is located roughly 48km north of Detroit. The authorities believe the accused used a semi-automatic handgun his father purchased on Black Friday.
The teen allegedly posted a chilling countdown on Instagram hours before the shooting, writing: “Now I become death – destroyer of worlds – see you tomorrow Oxford".
Three students were confirmed dead hours after the shooting at Oxford High School on Tuesday: Tate Myre, 16; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; and 14-year-old Hana St Juliana.
A fourth student, 17-year-old Justin Shilling, succumbed to injuries in a hospital on Wednesday.
Frightened students inside the school barricaded doors, phoned for help and grabbed whatever they could when they heard the gunshots.
"We grabbed calculators, we grabbed scissors just in case the shooter got in and we had to attack them," Aiden Page, a student who was in a classroom during the fatal incident, told CNN.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press
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