CHARDON, Ohio - The pictures are indelibly etched into our brains again. Children, in their innocence, scurrying to find a safe place because gunfire has erupted in their school. As they ran for their lives, the parents who learned of the news, run for them.
The television newscast blared out another troubling story. Another gunman has pointed his weapon at several people and squeezed off many shots, cutting down the lives of children who had no idea they would be in his gun sights.
In Chardon, Ohio, a quiet community in Geauga County, 30 miles from Cleveland, the early hours of what was to have been a day of study, the routine was stopped when the staccato sound of gunfire split the air. The firing of .22-caliber bullets echoed off the walls of Chardon High School. Sadly, they slammed into the bodies of five students. The hail of gunfire came at the hands of a gunman, who, after apprehension by police a short while later, told officers he had no particular targets in mind; he just fired.
Of the five students hit by the gunfire, three have died. Chardon is in deepest of mourning as the community is wrapped in grief. Funerals are now planned for Daniel Parmertor, Russell King Jr., and Demetrius Hewlin, all of them high school students who were beginning their day of classes when the gunman began shooting. Wounded by the gunfire and now recovering were Joy Rickers and Nick Walczak. All the students were shot in school, the place where we, as a society, expect them to be safe because it is designed as a place of education, and caring -- where the young are nurtured and prepared for full lives.
Once again, a community in the greater Cleveland area is suffering, wringing its hands and trying to comfort itself as best it can because of a gunman who came shooting. In 2007, there was a gunman who disrupted the calm of a Cleveland Metropolitan School District building with gunfire. He wounded several people before he killed himself. We huddled together then, searching for answers as we tried to comfort each other with hugs. As we had done before, beginning with the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999, we huddled in front of television sets and watched reports of the horror and of the aftermath.
In Chardon, the grief has returned. Certainly, it runs beyond that community's boundary line. Grief has spread throughout northeast Ohio and is felt in the farthest reaches of the country. The nation grieves. In many ways, we are all citizens of Chardon as we huddle together, clutching each others' hands, looking to both give and receive comfort.
As we have done before, we ask the psychiatrists and sociologists how to help us -- especially the youngest of us -- to process this information and find steady steps again. Once again, the experts tell us to love the children and give them the necessary strengths they will need to build good lives, filled with high self-esteem. We are in agreement.
Once again, there are more calls for metal detectors and more security guards in school. In this time where violence has increased, there may be places for them. Certainly, educators and other experts better educated than I on the subject will speak of those suggestions. However, our strongest shields come in building strong, law-abiding children, who will mature into strong, law-abiding adults.
Strong ethical lives must be instilled in children long before they are able to hold weapons. The lessons of peace and civility are certainly emphasized in school, but they are lessons which must begin at home. The home is the building block of the nation. Strong homes lead to strong communities, which lead to strong nations. Somewhere, the gunman who came shooting, bringing death, missed vital lessons in life.
So now, we bring flowers and teddy bears to places in memory of the children, who were doing what they were being taught to do in school. High school classrooms and cafeterias are places of learning where the world of education is shown to youngsters who stand on the brink of becoming adults. But on a Monday morning in February, three high school boys felt the fatal sting of bullets that ripped through the cafeteria and into their young bodies. Once again, senseless acts of violence now draw us to candlelight vigils and funerals.
So now we prepare for funerals for children, praying for their families and friends. We pray for those who were wounded and hospitalized when the gunman came shooting. We pray for the members of the family of all who are touched by the horror. We pray for ourselves because, in essence, we are all members of the family.
We live in a violent society. It swirls around us, sometimes creeping into places where it is least expected. But violence, with its heavy foot and hand, kicks in the door and thrusts itself into our lives. It is all around. You need only to watch the nightly newscast to realize that sad fact. No matter where we are, danger could be lurking around the corner or even sitting next to us in public places where we gather for the events of our lives. In so many instances, trouble resides among us. So many communities know the sting of violence brought by those whose intent is to harm. So many lives have been taken because of it.
As a journalist of three decades, I have seen much carnage. I see it again; this time it is Chardon. So I add another community to the long list of places where murder has blasted its way into the lives of peace-loving people. Chardon did nothing wrong. Chardon did everything right in how it handled the aftermath of the trouble. It was violence at the hands of the gunman which was wrong. Somewhere along the line, something went askew in the life of the gunman who came shooting.
No matter where we live, we have all become citizens of Chardon. We are crying together, searching for answers that, in so many instances, seem slow in coming. We are looking for safe places for our children and ourselves, as we look at the death and wounding brought by gunfire and ponder the age-old question of "why?"
So many of us now wear clothing of red and black, the colors of Chardon High School. It is a visible way of expressing togetherness in this time when grief is so heavy and we look to offer each other a loving support.
Yes, today, we are all family. We are all citizens of Chardon.