Courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohio State student Bianca Mandato remembers the morning of Feb. 27, 2012, beginning like any other. What she initially thought was a practice lockdown drill in physics class became serious when text messages saying “somebody got shot” began circulating.
Three Chardon High School students Daniel Parmertor (16), Demetrius Hewlin (16) and Russell King Jr. (17) were fatally shot when gunman T.J. Lane came into their high school cafeteria and began shooting. Chardon High School is in Chardon, Ohio, a small town outside Cleveland. Two others were injuried.
“It was a nightmare,” said Mandato, a first-year in interior design who graduated from Chardon High School last spring. “We all just sat (in class), and just cried together, hugged one another. We just supported each other. It was hard.”
On Tuesday, Lane pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault. His sentencing will be on March 19, where he is expected to receive life in prison.
Matthew Leskovec, now a first-year in psychology and Chardon graduate, said it seemed that the school immediately began receiving support from throughout the community.
“We had a prayer vigil at our town square right that night and hundreds and hundreds of people showed up, so right away the kindness from everyone just started flowing in,” Leskovec said.
The school received support from other local schools, Columbine High School, villages in Africa and even Project Linus, a nonprofit that donates blankets to those in need, Mandato said.
“It was amazing the support that we got, it was overwhelming,” she said. “It was a good feeling to know that everyone was there for us.”
For some Chardon graduates, the most telling act of kindness was during the 2012 basketball season when opponents wore Chardon’s school colors.
“It was amazing to see that people playing against us, our competitors, held sympathy for us,” said Danielle Megger, a second-year in construction management and Chardon graduate.
But more than a year later, the pain is still vivid.
“It’s been a whole year, and it hurts still, every day,” Megger said. “There’s not one day that I haven’t thought about it, but we’re getting through.”
Even students who were not there during the shooting said they have a hard time wrapping their heads around it.
Gordon Moser remembers waking up on the morning of the shooting and seeing information about it on Twitter. A year later, his day started similarly, but instead he was seeking comfort.
“Literally, I woke up right before it happened, so naturally, I get on Twitter and everyone else was thinking the same thing, ‘Wow, yep it happened right now,'” said Moser, a third-year in chemical engineering and Chardon graduate.
This kind of crime was atypical for Chardon and completely mischaracterized the small, friendly and safe town, Moser said.
“If people brought a gun to school it was because they left it out in their gun rack because they were hunting all weekend,” he said. “To hear that something like this had happened in Chardon was so far beyond the realm of thought.”
As the years go on, Chardon will always remember and will eventually heal – it is too strong not to, Mandato said.
“Everything’s going to (be) OK, I know that, everyone in Chardon knows that. It’s just definitely going to take some time,” Mandato said. “Things hurt, but they heal.”
Even though Chardon has a dark association with a high school shooting, some Chardon graduates and OSU students said they fully reject the validity of that association.
“The response is what defines us, not the tragedy … (The shooting) does not define me, it does not define any of the victims, I don’t even think it defines T.J.,” Moser said. “And it certainly does not define Chardon.”
Initially, some felt anger toward Lane, but as time passed, anger was traded for confusion. Lane was thought of as odd, but people had no clue he was capable of hurting anyone, Megger said. Moser said others wish they could have prevented the tragedy by speaking with Lane. However, others just appreciate that Lane will likely serve time for his crimes.
“He’s going to pay the price for it,” Leskovec said. “Hopefully he finds peace with himself and God.”
Some are hopeful that Lane’s upcoming sentencing will aid the healing process, giving the community some level of closure.
“This is now a part of our past. It is a horrible tragedy, we will never forget Danny, Demetrius and Russell, we will never forget T.J., but now we have come together. We are strong as a community and this is just another page, albeit a big page, in our history book,” Moser said. “This was a tragedy, but goddamn, I am proud to be from Chardon.”