Long before official word came of the tragic school shootings at Ohio’s Chardon High School, parents learned of the bloodshed from students via text messages and cell phones. They thronged the streets around the school, anxiously awaiting word on their children.
Teacher Joe Ricci had just begun class at his suburban Cleveland high school when he heard shots and slammed the door to his classroom, yelling, “Lockdown!” to students.
A few minutes later, he heard moaning outside, opened the door and pulled in student Nick Walczak who had been shot several times, according to a student whose sister was in Ricci’s classroom.
In the end, a teenager who opened fire in the school’s cafeteria on Feb. 27 killed two students and wounded three others before he was captured, authorities said. [Update: A third student, 16-year-old Demetrius Hewlin, died Tuesday morning, according to multiple reports.]
The shooter was identified as T.J. Lane by his family’s lawyer, WKYC-TV in Cleveland reported.
FBI officials would not comment on a motive. And Police Chief Tim McKenna said authorities “have a lot of homework to do yet” in their investigation of the shooting, which sent students screaming through the halls at the start of the school day at 1,100-student Chardon High.
One of the wounded was listed in critical condition, and another was in serious condition as of press time.
A news conference was planned for midmorning on Feb. 28.
Gov. John Kasich has ordered flags at the Ohio Statehouse flown at half-staff in honor of slain students Daniel Parmertor and Russell King Jr. Flags in Geauga County will also be lowered.
Parmertor was an aspiring computer repairman who was waiting in the cafeteria for the bus for his daily 15-minute ride to a vocational school.
His teacher at the Auburn Career School had no idea why Parmertor, “a very good young man, very quiet,” had been targeted, said Auburn superintendent Maggie Lynch.
“We are shocked by this senseless tragedy,” Parmertor’s family said in a statement. “Danny was a bright young boy who had a bright future ahead of him.”
Parmertor died from injuries shortly after being flown to the hospital. King died later Monday evening.
A student who saw the attack up close said it appeared that the gunman targeted a group of students sitting together and that Parmertor was gunned down while trying to duck under a cafeteria table.
Lawyer Robert Farinacci, who is representing Lane and his family, told WKYC-TV that Lane’s family was “devastated” by the shootings and offered their “most heartfelt and sincere condolences” to the families of those killed. He said they also were praying for the wounded students.
When asked about Lane, Farinacci described him as “a fairly quiet and good kid” with grades that are “pretty impressive.”
The FBI said the gunman was arrested near his car a half-mile from Chardon. He was not immediately charged.
An education official said the suspected shooter is a Lake Academy student, not a student at Chardon High. Brian Bontempo declined to answer any questions about the student. Bontempo is the superintendent of the Lake County Educational Service Center, which operates the academy.
The alternative school in Willoughby serves 7th through 12th grades. Students may have been referred to the school because of academic or behavioral problems, among other issues.
Teachers locked down their classrooms as they had been trained to do during drills, and students took cover as they waited for the all-clear in this town of 5,100 people, 30 miles from Cleveland. One teacher chased the gunman out of the building, police said.
Fifteen-year-old Danny Komertz, who witnessed the shooting, said the gunman was known as an outcast who had apparently been bullied. But others disputed that.
“Even though he was quiet, he still had friends,” said Tyler Lillash, 16. “He was not bullied.”
Farinacci told the television station that Lane “pretty much sticks to himself but does have some friends and has never been in trouble over anything that we know about.”
Komertz said he saw the shooter point a gun toward a group of four kids sitting at a table. The gunman fired two shots quickly, and students scrambled for safety. One of them was “trying to get underneath the table, trying to hide, protecting his face.”
Officers investigating the shooting blocked off a road in a heavily wooded area several miles from the school. Federal agents patrolled the muddy driveway leading to several spacious homes and ponds, while other officers walked a snowy hillside. A police dog was brought in. It wasn’t clear what they were looking for.
“Everybody just started running,” said 17-year-old Megan Hennessy, who was in class when she heard loud noises. “Everyone was running and screaming down the hallway.”
Rebecca Moser, 17, had just settled into her chemistry class when the school went into lockdown. The class of about 25 students ducked behind the lab tables at the back of the classroom, uncertain whether it was a drill.
Text messages started flying inside and outside the school, spreading information about what was happening and what friends and family were hearing outside the building.
“We all have cell phones, so people were constantly giving people updates—about what was going on, who the victims were, how they were doing,” Moser said.
The school had no metal detectors, but current and past students said it had frequent security drills in case of a shooting.
Joe Bergant, Chardon school superintendent, said school was canceled Feb. 28 and grief counselors would be available to students and families.
“If you haven’t hugged or kissed your kid in the last couple of days, take that time,” he said.