CHARDON, Ohio - Healing was the subject of a news conference with Chardon officials and class officers Friday as they talked about moving forward nearly one year after the shooting tragedy shook the close-knit community.
Chardon schools superintendent Joseph Bergant II began with a moment of silent reflection for the three students who lost their lives when a gunman opened fire inside the cafeteria Feb. 27, 2012.
Victims Demetrius Hewlin, Daniel Parmertor and Russell King Jr. have never been forgotten.
"Schools are not bunkers," explained Bergant. "Schools need to be places where kids feel safe..."
Principal Andy Fetchik called the students "a tremendous group," adding faculty members have taken a cue from them, commending them for their love, strength and compassion.
"I can assure you we are getting better," said Fetchik. "We have a strong, passionate community supporting us."
Fetchik also spent several minutes detailing the school's plans for next week, with Day of Remembrance events scheduled Wednesday throughout the school day and into the evening. The events were created by the students, many intimate and closed to the media.
"Through support, we've been able to begin the healing process," explained senior class officer Will Porter. On Wednesday, Porter asked all to join them in wearing red to honor the lives lost and those injured that tragic day.
Feb. 27 will be marked as a day of service in Chardon. Students will make blankets, dog leashes, cookies and cards, "to give back to all who helped calm our heads and hearts after the tragedy," Porter explained.
Class officers are hoping the pay it forward concept will expand into other communities, connecting other residents to Chardon.
While Beech Brook counselor Kate Biddle didn't give specific accounts of how people are coping with their grieving journey, she did say those killed are very close to everyone's heart.
"It is clear that the victims are always on the students' minds," Biddle said. "There is no one who lives in this community who is not touched by the violence that took place last year. Intense pain can either isolate us or bond us together tightly. What we can share, we can bear."
Fetchik also assured all that school officials are proactively addressing the full range of student developmental needs and that programs in place wouldn't have been possible without the support of generous donors to the Chardon Healing Fund.
Jennifer Deckard, fund vice chairwoman, said, "it's been truly humbling the response we have had."
The fund, designed to support the six families intimately involved in the tragedy, along with community collaboration, was established within 24 hours after the shooting.
"We knew of a long road to recovery, but it's also been inspiring in many ways," Deckard explained.
In all, $952,000 has been donated to the Chardon Healing Fund, money that has gone directly to the families or community needs. People from California to Maine, even relatives from Columbine, reached out and shared their support.
How was the majority of the funding distributed?
- $417,000 went to the six families directly impacted, either to pay their bills or to make home modifications
- $164,000 addressed needs for students and staff, including having presentations on grief, trauma and healing. It also allowed for nine professionals to get training in trauma care and the hiring of a school resource officer
-$250,000 was used to meet future behavioral healthcare needs in the community
"Keeping our eyes and ears open to our surroundings is key to keeping us safe," said Fetchik while adding the community will heal. He ended the news conference the same way he did that deadly day.
"If you haven't hugged your child today...please take that time. It's vitally important."
Survivors and victim's families were not at the news conference. Below is a detailed list of the Chardon One Year Remembrance events.
Tuesday, Feb. 26:
Chardon High School commemorative choir/band concert at 7 p.m. at St. Mary's Church on North Street. This event is not open to the media.
Wednesday, Feb. 27:
Day of Remembrance -- schools will be in session (all buildings are closed to media)
7:30 a.m.: "day of Service" begins at Chardon High School
12:20 p.m.: Students, staff and first responders begin Memorial Walk to Chardon Square
12:35 p.m.: "Gathering for Remembrance and Renewal" on Chardon Square
12:55 p.m.: Return walk to Chardon High School for refreshments and dismissal
6:30 p.m. Candlelight vigil on Chardon Square
7 p.m.: Memorial concert by Chardon Methodist Church Choir at Park Auditorium (closed to media)
8 p.m.: Chardon youth ministry group, Crave, lantern lighting ceremony at the high school soccer field (closed to media)
On Feb. 27, 2012, accused shooter TJ Lane opened fire in Chardon High School's cafeteria killing Parmertor, Hewlin and King, and injuring several others. Lane is currently discussing a plea deal, which could happen as early as his next court date, Feb. 26.