CHARDON, Ohio - For more than 30 years, I have covered court cases involving men bound for death row or life prison terms. Prisons are cold, bleak and horrible.
The convicted murderer of three Chardon High School students will have a rude awakening as he begins to spend the rest of his life in prison. TJ Lane spouted evil to families of the high school students he unmercifully gunned down in their high school cafeteria more than a year ago.
I don't know if the families expected some kind of apology after he entered pleas of guilty to all the charges. What they received was far from apology or words of remorse. Lane fired more shots; only these were verbal. He accented them with crude and vulgar gestures and with a T-shirt, which he had scrawled the word "KILLER" across the chest. The gunman smirked, and spouted vulgarities to the family.
The families, grieving over the loss of their loved ones, were shattered even more. But the man who labeled himself a "killer" will now be in the company of hardened men. He will live in an Ohio prison where the concrete is cold and foreboding, and the steel unforgiving.
During my years as a reporter, I have visited prisons several times to interview notorious criminals, among them James Earl Ray, convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The interview was in 1978, 10 years after the assassination, at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Tennessee. It marked my second time inside a prison. I was taken aback by the cold atmosphere that permeated every aspect of life there.
Lane will find that same kind of atmosphere for the rest of his life. His will be a life far from any comfort he had experienced during his teenage years living in Chardon, the tranquil Geauga County community that is a 35-minute drive from downtown Cleveland.
Chardon was transformed that Feb. 27, 2012. The community was instantly changed because of the blood that flowed and the lives which Lane took when he repeatedly fired the .22-caliber pistol he brought with him.
In prison, there will be no gun for him. Nor will there be keys for him to turn the heavy locks that will anchor closed the doors that will shut him off from the rest of society. He will deal with hardened men who came from far tougher neighborhoods, who lived tough and violent lives.
As the mother of one of the victims of the Chardon shooting said in the courtroom during the day of Lane's sentencing, "I hope you have a cold, harsh prison life with monsters like yourself."
They were strong words.
Lane could have been remorseful for his murderous hand, but instead, he flipped the middle finger to the victims' families, cursed them, and pushed out his chest so they could better read his shirt.
When Lane was removed from the Geauga County Jail, shackled, and put into a vehicle bound for a prison in the state penal system, it was without his infamous hand-scribbled "KILLER" T-shirt. The state of Ohio will issue him new clothing that will bear a number that he will wear for the rest of his life.
The killer is gone. He will have the rest of his life to contemplate his crimes and deal with whatever prison throws his way.
Now I concentrate totally on the families of victims and the rest of Chardon, which is still grieving over the horrible loss of life that came at the hands of the young gunman. So often, we hear people use the word "closure" when it relates to victims or their families. The people of Chardon will have no real closure with the incarceration of the gunman. Closure does not come that easily. The murders of family members will resonate for the rest of the lives of the survivors.
I pray for their healing. Healing can come from all of us who surround the victims' families. Let us surround them and help them move on as best they can. It will be difficult because so much has been lost.
But we must help them and help ourselves, as well. In many ways, as we deal with the widespread death that surrounds us, we are all citizens of Chardon. I pray for our healing. The killer is gone.