It happened at 7:30 a.m. Within a few hours, it was over and the entire connotation for my home town changed.
On Feb. 27, 2012, Thomas M. “T.J” Lane III took a .22 handgun to Chardon High School and shot six kids. Three of them died, two were in critical condition and one was paralyzed. Within a few hours, the entire community of Chardon, Ohio, was rocked to its core. Chardon was a place you took your kids to raise them. People waved to each other on the street and everyone knew each other. No one imagined that such a violent event could happen.
The high schoolers gathered in the cafeteria in the morning before the first bell. According to cleveland.com, T.J. started shooting right when students started heading to their first class. He walked up to a specific table and shot two of the three deceased victims there. The boys, Russell King and Demetrius Hewlin, were friends and were the first victims of the shooting. The group of friends sat at the same table for years.
According to an eyewitness, T.J., 17, sat behind the group of friends, silently waiting. The witness, Nate Mueller, said T.J. was a former friend. Mueller described T.J. as a quiet kid who had gone through a “goth” phase and caused the two to drift apart.
Mueller remembered hearing the sound of a firecracker and turning around to see T.J. standing there, firing at his friends. He stood there calm and quiet as he took the lives of Demetrius and Russel. A bullet grazed Mueller’s ear, allowing him to escape with his life. Mueller ran outside the building and called 911. After the incident, news stations bombarded him with questions. He remained calm and collected, which in hindsight showed the trauma he faced that Monday morning.
Overall, six students were shot. The first student to succumb to his wounds was 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor. Daniel died at noon that day. On Tuesday, medical professionals pronounced Russel King, Jr., brain dead. Along with Russel, Demetrius passed at a separate local hospital.
Nick Walczak, 17, and Joy Rickers, 18, were both taken to Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield, Ohio. Walczak was shot numerous times in various parts of his body, yet both survived the shooting.
That Day, As I Remember It
When I was a child, I attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in Chardon. Geographically, it is located across the street from Chardon High School. It was a cold day; snow covered the ground as my dad drove me and my little sister to school. Suddenly, he stopped the car and turned around. We went straight back home.
When we arrived, my mom was watching the local news channel. They announced the shooting, and we sat in the family room, silent. I believe my mom was the first to cry. Then me. Then my little sister, although I don’t think she was old enough to understand what was going on.
Over the course of the next few days, the school district shut down all class activities. The community gathered for candle light vigils honoring the victims and offering support for their families. On one single day, everything we thought we understood about our small town changed.
Although T.J. was a minor, he was tried as an adult because of the severity of his crimes. He pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of felonious assault. He was sentenced to three life terms without parole on March 19, 2013.
Chardon would be put through another traumatic day on Sept. 11, 2014. Along with two other inmates, T.J. escaped from the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio. For 24 hours, the police scoured the remaining area until the recaptured them. T.J. was then sent to a maximum security facility, where he has been ever since.
Although Feb. 27 will go down in history as the day that changed Chardon forever, it is also the day that strengthened us. It taught me to be more appreciative of the time that I have with my loved ones, and to remember how strong the community became through it all.