Monday morning was just getting off the ground when Clair Coley saw something was wrong at the school next door.
The senior citizen’s house, a small neat building hung with St. Patrick’s Day decorations, sits at the corner of a quiet residential block and the driveway leading into Chardon High School. From a back window looking out on the large lawn buried in snow, Coley spotted 30 to 40 police officers with shotguns swarm the area before the clock had hit 8 a.m.
“It was a mess,” Coley told Scene later Monday afternoon. “Then I saw the students running away from the school instead of going toward it, and I knew something was wrong.”
We all know now what sent those students running, although a lot of details are still underwater. Just before 8 a.m., 17-year-old TJ Lane opened fire in the Chardon cafeteria. Described as a loner with a rough home life, the student reportedly went after a specific group of peers who always sat at the same table — possibly because one was dating Lane’s ex. After hitting five students, the shooter ran from the school, driven from the premises by Frank Hall, an assistant football coach. Lane subsequently turned himself in without incident a few blocks from campus. Two victims — 16-year-old Danny Parmertor and 17-year-old Russell King, Jr. — died. A third is in critical condition.
Although those facts — not to mention false ones — squeezed out of the panicked small town in the hours after the shooting, authorities played their cards close to the chest at a press conference late Monday afternoon.
The meeting took place in the parking lot of the board of education building, located on the same campus as the school. An hour before authorities were scheduled to speak, the blacktop was jammed with news crews hot-wiring the area for live feeds. Affiliates from the whole network alphabet soup were on hand, including reporters from as far as Columbus, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
The officials that spoke before the rolling cameras — Geauga County Sheriff Dan McClelland, Chardon Schools Superintendent Joseph Bergant, Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna — kept their comments limited and declined to take questions. They pressed home that the school’s well-oiled lockdown plan helped to prevent further tragedy. The district’s Bergant also announced the entire district would be off Tuesday.
“We want people to stay home and spend some time reflecting on family,” he said, fighting off tears. “We hope every parents, if you haven’t hugged your kid in the last couple days, take that time.”
By the time of the press conference, conspicuously absent from the campus were students. Since the morning evacuation, most of the student body had been released to parents. Those still on campus were working with grief counselors. As reporters hustled off to file reports around sundown, the campus was completely quiet.
Not soon after, on the northwest corner of the quaint town square, kids began gathering in a makeshift vigil around Brandon Karcic and his acoustic guitar. A Chardon alum, he set up on the street corner with a sign asking for donations for victims. About a dozen former students were eventually on the sidewalk, wrapped up Chardon High sweatshirts and jackets against the cold. Some knew the victims or had family members on the scene at the time of the shooting.
Gina Long, a rail-thin dark-haired girl who graduated from the school in 2010, was acquainted with Danny Parmertor. “I’ve been friends with his brother for a very long time,” she told Scene. “Funniest kid, nicest kid. I work down at Cleats, and he would come in for wing night with his friends all the time. Always polite, always making jokes.”
“It’s unreal,” said Jamie Coleman, a 2009 grad. “People move here away from [other] school districts for this reason, to be safe.”
As light drained out of the sky, more kids appeared on the square, including a guy hauling a bongo drum to accompany the guitar. Karcic jumped into a rendition of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” The song’s ending refrain — “where are you friends tonight, if I could see all my friends tonight” — was particularly loaded up on gravity considering what happened less than a mile away and 12 hours back.