The Chardon High School Shooting

T.J. Lane giving the victims families the finger in court.
T.J. Lane giving the victims families the finger in court.

The Chardon High School shooting occurred on February 27, 2012, at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, United States. Three male students died within two days following the incident. Two other students were hospitalized, one of whom sustained several serious injuries requiring extensive rehabilitation, and the other suffered a minor injury. The seriously injured victim has since been declared permanently paralyzed. A sixth student sustained a superficial wound.

While rumors of a warning of the event having been posted on the Internet circulated, student witnesses identified the shooter as Thomas “T. J.” Lane III, a 17-year-old juvenile. Although police were initially hesitant to publicly identify the juvenile after he was apprehended, by the evening of February 28, authorities confirmed that the suspect was Lane.

The weapon Lane used in the shooting was a .22 caliber handgun. At an initial court hearing, the prosecutor revealed that he admitted to shooting 10 rounds of ammunition from the gun during the shooting, which began in the school cafeteria at approximately 7:30 a.m., shortly after school began. Although Lane told police that he did not know the victims and that they were chosen randomly, witnesses stated that it appeared he targeted a specific student and the group he was sitting with in the cafeteria.

After the shooting occurred, Lane reportedly left the building. Witnesses stated he was chased from the building by a teacher, and was arrested a short time later outside the school. Lane was ultimately indicted on three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder, and one count of felonious assault. He was initially detained as a juvenile pending further court action.

Reaction to the event prompted a statement from Ohio Governor, John Kasich. Several prayer vigils were held and a fund for the victims was established. Thousands of people attended one of the vigils, at which the Governor spoke, the night after the attack. President Barack Obama gave his condolences to the school principal in a telephone call following the incident. Analysis of the crime and comparisons to similar attacks began immediately following the shooting.

In May 2012, a judge determined that Lane was competent to stand trial. Later that month the decision was made to charge Lane as an adult. He pleaded guilty and received three life sentences on March 19, 2013.

On September 11, 2014, Lane, along with two other inmates, escaped from Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio. He was recaptured the following day.

Details

The shooting began at approximately 7:30 a.m. (EST) in the Chardon High School cafeteria. A student witness said that the shooting began in the cafeteria before first period while students were eating breakfast. According to reports, a boy stood up and began shooting, causing chaos.

A surveillance video showed that Lane shot four male students in the cafeteria with a .22 caliber handgun. As he fled, Lane shot a female student, and was then chased out of the school by a teacher, football coach Frank Hall. Lane was arrested outside the school near his car on Woodin Road.

Initially, five students were hospitalized, three of whom later died. Two students, Joy Rickers and Nick Walczak, were taken to local Hillcrest Hospital, while Daniel Parmertor, Russell King, and Demetrius Hewlin were flown by helicopter to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. A sixth student, Nate Mueller, was superficially injured when a bullet grazed his right ear.

– Fatalities

At noon on February 27, 2012, Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna announced in a news conference that one of the victims had died. The first deceased student was identified as Daniel Parmertor, a 16-year-old high school junior, by a spokeswoman for Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center. His family issued a statement requesting that their privacy be respected. When Lane opened fire, Parmertor was in the cafeteria waiting for a bus to the Auburn Career Center vocational school in nearby Concord Township, where he studied computer science.

At 12:42 a.m. the next day, a second student, Russell King, Jr., 17, was pronounced brain dead at MetroHealth Medical Center. King, a junior, studied alternative energy technologies. He was enrolled at both Chardon High School and at the Auburn Career Center. King’s family released a statement thanking the public for support and offering sympathy to the families of the other victims. They also said that his organs would be donated as he had wished. A witness, Nate Mueller, said that King had recently started dating Lane’s former girlfriend. Other student witnesses said that it appeared as if Lane was specifically aiming for King, indicating that he was the first to be shot. The students stated that King had previously threatened to beat Lane up. They told reporters that Lane had taken up weightlifting with the intention of fighting King.

On February 28, 2012, it was reported that Demetrius Hewlin, the third student who was transferred to MetroHealth, had died. His family also expressed their sorrow for their loss in a statement to the press. Friends of Hewlin said that he liked to work out and wanted to be on the football team. Hewlin’s mother, Phyllis Ferguson, in an interview with ABC News said of her son, “He wasn’t a morning person and he was late for school. But that one day he wasn’t late. We were running a little late, but we weren’t late enough. But it’s okay. It’s in God’s hands. Let His will be done.” When questioned about what she would say to the assailant, she said that she would forgive him, because most school shooters did not know what they were doing. She explained that her son’s organs would be donated and that one of the recipients was a child who was within days of death without a transplant.

– Other victims

One of the two injured students who had been transferred to Hillcrest Hospital, 17-year-old Nick Walczak, was shot several times, and one bullet lodged in his cheek. He was also shot in the arm, neck and back. As he entered rehabilitation a week later, in “fair condition”, there were questions about whether he would be able to walk again. His mother said that he was going to require therapy on his spine to restore the feeling in his legs. Joy Rickers, 18, was released from Hillcrest Hospital on February 28. Nate Mueller, who was not hospitalized, was nicked in his right ear by a bullet. Mueller and Walczak, students of Auburn Career Center, were waiting with Parmertor and King for the bus that would transfer them to their school on the morning of the shooting.

– Teacher actions

After the shooting, students referred to two teachers, Frank Hall and Joseph Ricci, as heroes. The Daily Beast reported that news of the men’s “courageous actions” spread when students expressed thanks on Twitter; the reports indicated that Hall had charged the shooter despite the shooter pointing his gun at the coach. A student told reporters that Hall frequently spoke of how much he cared for the students, a feeling which was shown by his actions.

Meanwhile, Joe Ricci had just started his math class when he heard shots and ordered his students to “lockdown”. According to a student witness, when Ricci heard moaning outside his classroom, he put on a bulletproof vest, opened the door, dragged a wounded student, Nick Walczak, into the classroom and administered first aid. Walczak’s family credits Ricci with saving his life. A student described the teachers as “two of the greatest leaders in our school.”

Shooter

Thomas Michael “T. J.” Lane III (born September 19, 1994) was identified by authorities as the suspect late on February 27. The authorities were reluctant to release his name, since he was still a juvenile, but CBS News reported that by early afternoon law enforcement officials had surrounded a house belonging to Lane. According to Melanie Jones, writing for International Business Times, reports on the possibility of Lane’s involvement led to great press interest, which the police initially deflected.

T.J. Lane
T.J. Lane

The authorities searched the home of the suspect’s paternal grandparents in Chardon Township. Lane did not live there but would frequently visit on weekends. The residence, along with other properties owned by the Lane family, were searched extensively on the day of the shooting. A nearby forest, which neighbors said the Lane children used for target practice, was also combed.

At the time of the shooting, Lane was not taking classes at Chardon High School, but at Lake Academy, an alternative school in nearby Willoughby. The school, which is also known as the Lake County Educational Service Center, served 55 students in February 2012. They were referred there from public schools in the region because of academic or behavioral needs. Students who complete their educations at Lake Academy graduate with their classmates at the sending schools.

Witnesses said Lane appeared to be targeting students who were sitting together at one table, Four of the five victims who were sitting at that table were students at the Auburn Career Center. The bus that Lane took from Chardon to Lake Academy was the same one that the Auburn students took, but his stop was farther on the route. Lane also knew some of the victims from middle school.

There were rumors that there had been a warning about the shooting posted on Twitter. News agencies published excerpts from the Facebook profile of a boy named “T. J. Lane”. The profile did not give a location but several of the user’s friends were listed as being from Chardon. One entry in particular, dated December 30, 2011, caught attention, especially the last line, which read: “Die, all of you.” According to a comment posted by Lane on January 20, 2012, he wrote the text in class.

– Reactions of friends

A friend of Lane described him as “just a very normal teenage boy”. She also told CNN that she was in “complete shock” from the incident, and that Lane often had a sad look in his eyes, but came across as completely normal. Another friend said that Lane was regularly teased at school, which made Lane “put a wall around himself” and refuse to divulge personal information. A third student told reporters that Lane had come from “a really broken-down home”, and was a quiet person who could be nice to others if he felt comfortable with them.

Students at Lake Academy denied that he had been bullied. They described him as friendly and nice, but not very talkative.

– The weapon

After Lane’s arrest, law enforcement determined that the gun used in the shooting was purchased legally. Authorities said Lane had stolen the .22-caliber handgun from his uncle. The press reported that it was a Ruger MK III Target .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun. However, a neighbor who was close to the family said that it was a target revolver that belonged to the boy’s grandfather. When asked how it was possible to fire as many as ten or more rounds from a revolver in quick succession, the neighbor had no explanation and eventually admitted that the revolver theory was probably not true after all. Reports were that the shooter dropped the gun as he fled from the scene. It was found inside the school and recovered by police. Lane also admitted to taking a knife into Chardon High School.

Sturm Ruger MKIII
Sturm Ruger MKIII

– Suspect’s prior offenses

On February 29, 2012, Tim Grendell, the juvenile court judge presiding over Lane’s case, allowed the release of the suspect’s juvenile records to the press. According to his records, Lane was arrested twice in December 2009. The first time, Lane restrained his uncle while his cousin hit him. The other case involved Lane hitting another boy in the face. To the second charge, Lane pleaded to a count of disorderly conduct.

Trial

On February 28, 2012, at 3:50 pm (EST), a detention hearing was held for the suspect at Geauga County Juvenile Court in Chardon. According to the LA Times, in the United States teenage suspects are generally treated as juveniles until prosecutors decide to charge them as adults. Judge Timothy J. Grendell began the proceeding by asking the media not to take photographs of the defendant until it was determined whether or not he would be tried as an adult. He immediately ruled that the defendant would remain in custody. At the prosecutor’s request, the judge directed that the attorneys involved in the case refrain from speaking to the media regarding the proceeding. He then outlined conditions under which the media could participate, including not taking any facial photographs of the defendant or his family. After hearing the prosecutor’s argument for continuing the detention and receiving no objection, the judge ruled that detention, at the Portage-Geauga Juvenile Detention Center in Ravenna, Ohio, should continue for 15 days. The issues of arraignment and possible transfer to adult court were put off to future dates. The judge stated that the prosecution had until March 1, 2012, to file charges.

After the hearing, prosecutor David Joyce indicated that he would attempt to try Lane as an adult and file three counts of aggravated murder, among other charges, for the incident. It was revealed at the hearing that Lane admitted to shooting 10 rounds of ammunition during the incident. He also told the police that he did not know the victims and that they were selected randomly. However, a witness who said he knew the shooter indicated that Lane knew several of the victims.

Outside defense attorneys observing the hearing questioned whether Lane’s attorney was protecting his client’s rights. First, a concern was raised that Lane’s attorney agreed with the judge that the gag order would not go into effect until after the press conference that prosecutor Joyce held following the hearing. One lawyer explained that this exception to the order gave the prosecution the opportunity to announce the defendant’s confession publicly, thus influencing the jury pool. A second concern regarded Joyce’s statement at the conference that Lane “is someone who’s not well.” Ian Friedman, a criminal attorney and past president of the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said that such things are generally said by defense attorneys. Another attorney said that in this case, he would file a motion which would ensure that the juvenile’s mental health would be evaluated before the case was brought to the adult court. As of March 1, 2012, Lane’s defense had filed no motions.

On March 1, 2012, prosecutors formally charged Lane with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder, and one count of felonious assault. Lane did not enter a plea when he was arraigned on March 6. Two additional defense attorneys were assigned to the case in March, and the judge postponed the decision to try Lane as an adult until after a competency evaluation was completed. On April 9, Lane again appeared before Judge Grendell who set the date for a competency hearing for May 2. He also scheduled a hearing for May 12 to determine whether the defendant would be tried as an adult.

The competency evaluation might have been requested by either the prosecution or the defense. It was speculated by one observing attorney that the judge might have made the decision himself. According to Ohio law, “a child may be found competent only if able to grasp the seriousness of the charges, if able to understand the court proceedings, if able to aid in the defense and if able to understand potential consequences. The law says a child with a mental illness or an intellectual or developmental disability may not be found competent.”

The competency hearing was held on May 2, 2012. Testimony was given by psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Resnick. Resnick testified that Lane was mentally ill. He said the defendant was suffering from psychosis that caused hallucinations and loss of contact with reality, but “does not interfere with Lane’s ability to understand the charges against him.” Judge Grendell determined at this hearing that Lane was competent to stand trial.

In June 2012, it was determined that Lane would be tried as an adult. He was indicted on the six charges that were filed earlier in March: three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of felonious assault. On June 8, he pleaded not guilty to those charges. His bail was set at $1 million, and he was scheduled to be transferred from the juvenile detention center to county jail on June 18. However, on June 20, a motion was filed with the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas stating that if someone were to pay a $120 fee, he could remain in the Portage-Geauga County Juvenile Detention Center. On February 26, 2013, Lane pleaded guilty to the charges for which he had been indicted.

On March 19, 2013, Lane was sentenced to three life sentences in prison without parole. After entering the courtroom, he took off his dress shirt to reveal a white T-shirt underneath which had the word “KILLER” handwritten across the front. He smiled and smirked during the hearing. After being sentenced, Lane said to the victims’ families and the courtroom, “This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. Fuck all of you,” while giving the middle finger.

Community reaction

On the morning of the shooting, Ohio Governor John Kasich issued a statement in which he praised the Chardon Police and Geauga County Sheriff’s office for their handling of the incident and pledged support to the community. The following day, Kasich ordered that the flag at the Ohio Statehouse, as well as all flags in Geauga County, be flown at half-staff.

In the wake of the event, officials closed all Chardon schools on February 28. The School Department provided counseling and scheduled a gradual return to school for the students, teachers and staff, with school resuming in full on Friday, March 2, 2012. On the night of February 27, there were several vigils held, including one at Assembly of God Church. After it was suggested on Facebook, tens of thousands agreed to wear red, one of Chardon High School’s school colors, on February 28 in support of the school. The United Way set up The Chardon Healing Fund to help those traumatized by the shooting. The fund had already acquired $150,000 by the time its creation was announced on February 28.

In the evening of the day following the attack, thousands of people attended a vigil at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chardon, where a funeral mass was scheduled for victim Daniel Parmertor, to take place the following weekend. As on February 28, people in attendance wore red. Chardon High School Principal Andy Fetchik spoke to rally the student body and encourage them to help each other during the healing process, while Kasich encouraged Chardon residents to support those who had lost loved ones. The following day, President Barack Obama telephoned Fetchik and expressed his condolences for the death of the students, saying that both he and First Lady Michelle Obama were praying for the high school community.

– Students return to school

On March 2, 2012, the students entering the building received a warm welcoming. A student from West Geauga High School, her mother, and neighbor organized the “Line Up At Chardon” event via Facebook. They welcomed the students of Chardon high school back into the school building with a giant sign that says “I’ll Stand By You” referencing the song by The Pretenders. More than 100 children from the surrounding school districts, including West Geauga, came to show support. Also, the students of Chardon High School and their parents attended a “walk through” of the school. The senior class officers organized a procession from Chardon Square to the school that morning. The organizers invited participation in the three-quarter-mile walk on Facebook; the day before the activity, over 225 students had shown interest in participating.

Classes resumed the next day. The cafeteria, where the shooting took place, was repainted and reorganized. The table where most of the victims were sitting at the time of the attack remained in place, however, as “a counterpoint to the way the other tables are arranged”. The table was covered with flowers and stuffed animals.

– Funerals and protest

On March 2, 2012, WEWS-TV reported that Fred Phelps, Jr., whose father founded the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), had posted on Twitter that the WBC was planning to “street-preach” about the Ohio shooting “regarding God’s hand, judgments and vengeance in this affair.” Another Twitter post from a member of the church said the group would protest Daniel Parmertor’s funeral. In response, Chardon resident Alex Pavlick sent out a request on Facebook for people to join him in forming a barricade around St. Mary’s Church, where the funeral was to be held on March 3, if the WBC showed up to protest. He wrote that he wanted to ensure the funeral was not ruined by “a group of extremists.” By the time the story was posted on the television station’s web site, 1600 people had agreed to join Alex in his counter-protest. The day of the funeral, the television station reported that a human barricade consisting of thousands had readied, but the WBC protestors did not come.

Three days after Parmertor’s funeral, Demetrius Hewlin’s funeral was held, also at St. Mary’s. Members of four motorcycle clubs, including the Patriot Guard Riders participated as part of the honor guard. The Patriot Guard was formed specifically to provide a barrier for families of fallen soldiers at funerals which are protested by the Westboro Baptist Church.

2014 escape from prison

At 7:38 p.m on September 11, 2014, Lane escaped from Allen Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio, along with two other inmates. The three inmates escaped using a makeshift ladder to scale a fence during recreation hours. Thirty-three-year-old Lindsey Bruce was quickly captured afterwards. Lane and the other inmate, identified as 45-year-old Clifford Opperud of Carlisle, Ohio, who was serving a 12-year sentence for aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, and kidnapping, remained at large. Police conducted searches at a wooded area and a residential neighborhood near the prison, and considered him and Opperud as “potentially armed and dangerous”. Nearby residents were advised to lock their doors and stay inside their homes. Dina Parmertor, Daniel Parmertor’s mother, reacted to the escape, saying, “I’m disgusted that it happened. I’m extremely scared and panic stricken. I can’t believe it.”

At 1:20 a.m. the following day, Lane was captured near the woods, followed by Opperud over three hours later. Chardon High School was closed that same day and counselors were made available to students and staff. Later in the day, Lane, Opperud, and Bruce were transferred to the super-maximum security Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. In the Youngstown prison, Lane was forced to spend 23 hours a day in a cell the size of a small parking space, with one hour of recreation per day. As of March 2016, Lane is being held in the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, OH.

Media comparison

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence called the Chardon shooting “the deadliest high-school shooting in the U.S. since 2005”. In that year, seven people were killed at Red Lake Senior High School in Minnesota. The Christian Science Monitor published an article that compared the attack at Chardon with other similar events such as the Columbine High School massacre. The article said that since the incident at Columbine, the occurrences of “student-initiated shootings” were in decline, pointing out that in the 2009–10 school year there were 33 school-related violent deaths. This was the lowest number of such deaths since the 2002–03 school year, the highest being the 2006–07 school year, in which there were 66 deaths from school violence. Suggesting that Columbine was a catalyst for attention to school shootings, the article’s author wrote that heightened awareness of the problem may be responsible for the decline.

The Monitor article included information from Kenneth Trump, the president of a school safety consulting firm. Trump noted that recent school shootings often involved “a lone shooter who may not have given many indicators of what he is planning, undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues,” and were more difficult to detect due to “ballooning social media” masking the warning signs. He went on to explain that often indicators of these attacks appear on Twitter and Facebook. He added that there were several factors which could lead to an increase in school shootings, such as too much emphasis on bullying [as a cause], untreated mental illnesses, lower funding for school safety programs and training, and a possible complacency in students and administrators.

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