CHARDON, Ohio — A 17-year-old Ohio boy accused of shooting five students in a high school cafeteria, killing three of them, is mentally “not well” but will likely stand trial as an adult, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Thomas “T.J.” Lane, a tall, slim boy with dark hair and dark eyes, appeared in Geauga County Juvenile Court Tuesday afternoon flanked by his grandfather and legal guardian, Jack Nolan, two aunts, and his lawyer, Robert Farinacci.
The teenager remained mostly silent throughout the hearing, staring at the judge and wincing as the prosecutors read the allegations against him.
He was also silent the morning before, students said, as he opened fire inside Chardon High School, about 30 minutes outside of Cleveland.
‘Needs to heal’
“This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs,” Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce said at a news conference just hours after residents learned that two more students had died. “This is someone that is not well and I’m sure in our court case we’ll prove that to all of your desires, but now the community needs to heal.”
Young Lane remained in juvenile detention Tuesday night under the care of the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office. Prosecutors have until 4:45 p.m. Thursday to charge him or he will be released from custody, although prosecutors have hinted that is unlikely.
An initial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, and Judge Grendwell said he tentatively left March 19 open to discuss the possibility of moving the case from juvenile court to the adult, criminal court system.
Mr. Joyce said medics who arrived at the school Monday morning found three boys unconscious in the cafeteria with gunshot wounds to the head.
In a nearby classroom, they found one boy bloodied from a neck wound. A female student also injured in the scuffle was released from the hospital Tuesday afternoon.
Geauga County officials said a teacher, whom students have said helped chase the gunman out of the school, told them the shooter had left and gave medics and police other vital information they needed to enter and tend to students.
About an hour after the first call came in, Geauga County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Bilicic stopped the suspect about 1.5 miles away. Shortly after he was captured, prosecutors said, the suspect admitted to the crimes. He said he carried a 22-caliber Ruger pistol and a knife with him to school that day, Mr. Joyce said. The boy told police he “did not know the students but chose them randomly.”
Surveillance video and witness interviews show that the teen, who attended the nearby Lake Academy for students with academic and behavioral problems, was the only shooter, Mr. Joyce said.
He said it’s a “matter of law” in Ohio that T.J., who turned 17 in September, will be tried as an adult, probably on three counts of aggravated murder — one for each of the boys who died — and other charges for the remaining shooting victims.
Citing a gag order imposed by Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Grendell, Mr. Joyce said he could not say what prompted the gunman’s actions. Authorities have not released a motive in the shooting, although some news outlets have reported that it might have stemmed from some ill feelings about a girl.
The suspect’s family members, in a statement issued through Mr. Farinacci after the first boy died, said: “They want to give their most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family of the young man who passed and their continuing prayers are with all those who were injured. This is something that could never have been predicted.’’
Across the town of about 5,000, many Chardon residents turned their focus away from the suspect and toward the families whose children had been killed or wounded.
In school colors
High school students dressed in red and black — the school colors — and tied ribbons around trees and light poles. They sold heart-shaped car decals with the numbers “2-27-12” to raise money for the victims.
Hundreds of people gathered at St. Mary Church, about a block away from the high school.
Some erupted into applause as Ohio Gov. John Kasich named various law enforcement officials and teachers who aided in the shooting response. Some passed candles as he told everyone that the students who died — Daniel Parmertor, Russell King Jr. and Demetrius Hewlin — had a special place in heaven.
“Don’t forget them in six months or a year,” he said. “Love … it’s all about love.”
Mr. Kasich recounted how the town burnt down in 1868 and by 1869 had rebuilt some key landmarks. “Chardon rose from the ashes in one year,” he said. “You did it, and you are going to do it again.”
For 16-year-old Danielle Samples, a sophomore at Chardon High School, the vigil provided a much-needed step toward healing.
Danielle said she was leaving the cafeteria when young Lane pulled out a gun. “It sounded like he had lined up Doritos bags and was popping them,” she said.
She heard a boy yell, “Run,” sprinted down the hallway and heard more gunfire, she said. It was only when she reached the other side of the building that she realized how far she’d gone.
‘Still hasn’t hit me’
The reality of it all “still hasn’t hit me yet,” she said.
The first student who was shot, 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor, died Monday morning at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where he and two other students were flown following the shooting.
He studied CISCO computer networking at the nearby Auburn Career Center in the morning and attended classes at Chardon High in the afternoon, said career center superintendent Maggie Lynch.
Russell King Jr., 17, was declared brain dead overnight. Ms. Lynch said Russell studied alternative energy technology and loved to joke with school personnel.
Several hours later, also on Tuesday morning, fellow junior Demetrius Hewlin died at MetroHealth Medical Center. His family, through a hospital spokesman, described him as a “happy young man who loved life and his family and friends.”
Another boy, Nick Walczak, also a junior studying alternative energy technologies at the Auburn Career Center, remained in Hillcrest Hospital about a half-hour away from the high school, in serious condition Tuesday night.
The other injured student, Joy Rickers, 18, was released from the hospital and returned home with her parents Monday afternoon, officials said.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Liz Navratil is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
Contact Liz Navratil at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 412-263-1438.