Chardon High School shooting shows value of school security, crisis planning

CHARDON, Ohio - Nearly 13 years after the Columbine High School shooting, schools across the nation continue to implement the valuable lessons learned from the Colorado tragedy. On Monday, those lessons were put to the test at Chardon High School.

Mass parent notification systems, evacuation sites, parent-student reunification plans and methods for quickly mobilizing counselors are core topics school safety experts include in teaching school administrators, crisis teams and law enforcement officers how to prepare for their worst nightmare: a school shooting.

Lockdown drills now accompany math and spelling drills. Police officers practice "active shooter" drills, training officers to by-pass injured students and teachers on the floor as they rapidly move to neutralize the shooter.

The importance of these preparedness measures came to life as 17-year-old Thomas "TJ" Lane III allegedly killed one student and shot four others after opening fire in the Chardon High School cafeteria around 7:40 a.m. Monday, a source close to the investigation told NewsChannel5. 

Schools across the nation now employ text and voice messaging systems to alert in minutes hundreds of parents of the occurrence of critical incidents and where they should report to reunite with their children. In years prior to these systems, it could take hours to notify all parents of a school emergency.

Chardon Local School District issued a mass notification to parents Monday morning indicating the sole gunman was in custody.

The message also directed Chardon High School parents to pick up their children at Maple Elementary School. School leaders are now trained to have pre-designated evacuations sites, often other schools or community facilities, for relocating students away from the scene of the crisis and releasing them to their parents in an orderly manner.

Psychologists and counselors are on standby in most school districts across the nation to respond to suicides, school shootings and other mental health crises. Like their counterparts nationwide, counselors were mobilized quickly on Monday to support Chardon Local Schools' students.

Ohio law requires schools to practice at least one lockdown drill by December of each school year. Schools must also provide floor plans to their local law enforcement agency and to the Ohio Attorney General's office.

"Several years ago, the Chardon school district and local law enforcement began conducting drills, training, practice, if you would, for an event just like occurred today. As a result of that we were well-prepared for the response," Geauga County Sheriff Daniel McClelland said on Monday.

Early information suggests the shooting at Chardon High School also followed an eerie pattern seen in many school shootings for more than a decade:

- A teacher chased an armed gunman away from the scene to protect students.

- The alleged gunman reportedly grew up in a troubled family struck by divorce and violence.

- Law enforcement officials executed searches at residences associated with the alleged shooter, most likely in search of evidence of the suspect's planning of the shooting and possible clues as to whether other weapons and explosives may be associated with the incident.

- Social media and texting played a role in student communications during and after the shooting, and may have used by the shooter the day before he opened fire at the school.

Perhaps the most important lesson learned from Monday's school shooting at Chardon High School, like those echoed from school shootings of the past, was offered by Chardon Local Schools Superintendent Joe Bergant.

"Stay home and spend some time reflecting on family. And I hope every parent, if you haven't hugged or kissed your kid in the last couple days, take that time," Bergant said at a press conference on Monday.

Continue to follow and NewsChannel5 for ongoing developments.

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