One nation, under the gun
Just after seven-thirty on the morning of February 27th, a seventeen-year-old boy named T. J. Lane walked into the cafeteria at Chardon High School, about thirty miles outside Cleveland. It was a Monday, and the cafeteria was filled with kids, some eating breakfast, some waiting for buses to drive them to programs at other schools, some packing up for gym class. Lane sat down at an empty table, reached into a bag, and pulled out a .22-calibre pistol. He stood up, raised the gun, and fired. He said not a word.
Russell King, a seventeen-year-old junior, was sitting at a table with another junior, Nate Mueller. King, shot in the head, fell face first onto the table, a pool of blood forming. A bullet grazed Mueller’s ear. “I could see the flame at the end of the gun,” Mueller said later. Daniel Parmertor, a sixteen-year-old snowboarder, was shot in the head. Someone screamed “Duck!” Demetrius Hewlin, sixteen, was also shot in the head, and slid under the table. Joy Rickers, a senior, tried to run; Lane shot her as she fled. Nickolas Walczak, shot in his neck, arm, back, and face, fell to the floor. He began crawling toward the door.
Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School, in a Denver suburb, in 1999, American schools have been preparing for gunmen. Chardon started holding drills in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, when twenty-three-year-old Seung-Hui Cho, a college senior, shot fifty-seven people in Blacksburg.
At Chardon High School, kids ran through the halls screaming “Lockdown!” Some of them hid in the teachers’ lounge; they barricaded the door with a piano. Someone got on the school’s public-address system and gave instructions, but everyone knew what to do. Students ran into classrooms and dived under desks; teachers locked the doors and shut off the lights. Joseph Ricci, a math teacher, heard Walczak, who was still crawling, groaning in the hallway. Ricci opened the door and pulled the boy inside. No one knew if the shooter had more guns, or more rounds. Huddled under desks, students called 911 and texted their parents. One tapped out, “Prayforus.”
From the cafeteria, Frank Hall, the assistant football coach, chased Lane out of the building, and he ran off into the woods.
Moments later, four ambulances arrived. E.M.T.s raced Rickers and Walczak to Chardon’s Hillcrest Hospital. Hewlin, Parmertor, and King were flown by helicopter to a trauma center at MetroHealth Medical Center, in Cleveland. By eight-thirty, the high school had been evacuated.
At a quarter to nine, police officers with dogs captured Lane, about a mile from the school.
“I hate to say it, but we trained for exactly this type of thing, a school emergency of this type,” Dan McClelland, the county sheriff, said.
Danny Parmertor died that afternoon. That evening, St. Mary’s Church opened its doors, and the people of Chardon sank to their knees and keened. At the town square, students gathered to hold a vigil. As night fell, they lit candles. Drew Gittins, sixteen, played a Black Eyed Peas song on his guitar. “People killin’, people dyin’,” he sang. “People got me, got me questionin’, Where is the love?”
Russell King had been too badly wounded. A little after midnight, doctors said that they couldn’t save him…
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