The Shooting at Chardon High School

by Melannie Svoboda SND on March 5, 2012

As many of you know, I live in Chardon, Ohio. What you may not know is that I live at St. Mary convent which, together with our church and elementary school, is right across the street from Chardon Middle School and High School. I was close to the tragic events on Monday, February 27 when a student opened fire in the high school cafeteria, shooting five students. Three of them died. As I write this, one student is still hospitalized in serious condition. A fifth student was released from the hospital last week.

I was at Mass that morning. Phyllis, the mother of one of the victims, was also there as usual. At the kiss of peace we turned, smiled and waved to each other across the aisle as we usually did. Shortly afterwards we began to hear sirens outside. After communion, Father announced that there had been a shooting at the high school. Right after Mass Phyills’ cellphone rang informing her that her son, Demetrius, had just been shot. Within minutes an FBI agent was rushing her to the trauma unit in Cleveland where her son would be flown.

Our street began to fill with police cars, ambulances, fire engines, swat team vans, a bomb squad vehicle and, a little later, many news media trucks. Helicopters flew overhead. Three of them landed at our nearby Walmart parking lot ready to evacuate the three most seriously wounded.

It was surreal–watching the live coverage on TV and seeing the actual scene outside my front window. After the shooter was apprehended, the students were evacuated to nearby Maple School. Parents were then permitted to come for their children. Once again our streets began to fill–this time with cars as anxious parents tried to get their kids. Some parents parked their cars in town and were frantically running down the streets to reach their children. I will never forget the look on their faces.

By afternoon, all the students and most emergency vehicles were gone from our street and an eerie silence settled over the neighborhood. At the usual dismissal time, there were no loud school buses, no steady stream of cars, no groups of kids sauntering or laughing down our street like normal. I ached for normal.

The tragic event placed a pall over our small community of 5,100. Tears came easily to all of us. But gradually we began to see goodness emerging from all the ugliness. We heard of the heroic behavior of several teachers, the professionalism of law enforcement agents, and the devoted care of emergency medical personnel. Area churches reached out. Our parish, for example, held a candlelight vigil the day after the shooting. I’d estimate about 3,000 people came–1,000 packed in the church and the rest of us standing in the cold outside. The service which was broadcast on a large screen in front of the church, consisted of well-chosen scripture readings, short reflections by individuals involved, and many songs led by our Life Teen group. I was most moved when we as a group recited the “Our Father” and sang “Let there Be Peace on Earth.”

Area businesses reached out. The local florist donated red and black ribbon (Chardon’s school colors) so the high school students could tie ribbons around all the trees in town. Our parish school offered our building for grief counselors. On the day the faculty of the high school returned (the day before the students did) our parish served them a hot breakfast. Businesses and houses posted signs offering their prayerful support. On Thursday the students were permitted to enter the school with their parents for the first time since the tragedy. They met as a group at our town square and walked in solidarity to the school less than a mile away. As they marched, many people lined their route holding signs and applauding them. When the students returned to school for regular classes, students from other area high schools were gathered at the doors to show their solidarity with the Chardon students.

Governor John Kasich, one of the speakers at the prayer vigil, reminded us that Chardon’s square burned to the ground in 1868. But the Chardon community was resourceful. Within a year they had rebuilt the square–including the lovely old courthouse that still dominates the square. Kasich said he believes the current Chardon community will be as resourceful as previous generations were. We will heal from this terrible tragedy, he said, if we have three things: family, friends, and faith in God.

When I see the outpouring of concern and prayers for Chardon from all over the country, I am filled with gratitude. And when I see how the Chardon community has pulled together, I am very proud. In fact, I have never been more proud to say, “I live in Chardon, Ohio.”

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Walker March 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Thank you for your personal beautiful account of how everyone in Chardon pulled together to get through this horrific tragedy.

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Sr. Ellen Beebe March 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Melannie, your account brought tears to my eyes. When you see Phyllis, please assure her of the love and prayers of so many of us who hold her and all the others in our hearts. May our good God heal so many broken hearts.

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Sr. Anne Glaser March 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Dear Melannie,

Thank you for your typically sincere and touching reflection on the sad events of last week. Our community here in Chardon certainly shares your sadness and have kept the high school in our prayers.

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Mo March 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Melannie what you said could not have been said more beautifully. Thank you.

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Sister Ann-Marie Borgess, SND March 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Melannie–
Beautifully said. Our students at St. Patrick of Heatherdowns elementary school here in Toledo having been praying for everyone in Chardon. May Jesus, the Healer, embrace everyone.

Ann-Marie (Toledo)

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 5, 2012 at 8:44 pm

Thank you so much, Ann Marie. The community of Chardon has really felt those prayers!

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Dolly March 6, 2012 at 12:42 am

Gracias, Melannie. From here in Jinotega we are trying to grasp what happened and mourn with Chardon. As I told Sandy, my heart aches- and wraps around everyone at St. Mary’s, in Chardon. After living and teaching there for 7 pre-convent years, I too am proud to have called Chardon home. What I have read about Phyllis this week has most moved me (forgiveness!)…and so has the response of Chardon folks to darkness and hate (love!). Love wins. Always will.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 6, 2012 at 6:38 am

Thank you for your prayers and love, Dolly–coming to us all the way from Nicaragua. (Our world is so small…) Yes, I too was deeply touched by Phyliss’ response to her son’s death: forgiveness. She is one strong and faith-filled woman.

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Joan Piovarcy, SND March 6, 2012 at 9:21 am

Thank you Melannie,

So simple, so profound! I can’t imagine what it is like to be there in the midst of it. My heart aches for all of you. All have been and will be in my prayers.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

Thank you, Joan, thank you!

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smjames March 6, 2012 at 10:07 am

Thanks so much Melannie! I, too, am so proud of the students and families of Chardon. A friend’s daughter is a senior there and he was reflecting on how he could support her ( and also his niece) His daughter said she was walking to school with friends and he wondered would she be embarrassed that Dad was with her. We all told him BE THERE. She is showing you that she and her friends have learned how to cope with this type of sadness. It’s not that she did not want to walk with him–but that now at 18–she had learned lessons from him and remembered. So many big and little good things have and will come from this as is usual with God.
I am so glad Phyllis had you to talk to.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 6, 2012 at 11:36 am

What a beautiful story. Yes, James, many big and little good things will continue to come from this tragic event.

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Sr. Susan Maria Kusz March 6, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Melannie, here at Sangre we have been thinking of all those who live in Chardon and most especially those directly affected by this horrific tragedy. We hold everyone in our prayer and pray for a world where children and young adults can grow up in peace and hope.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 7, 2012 at 5:00 am

Susan, your prayers coming to us from New Mexico, are giving our local community strength and grace. Thank you so much!

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Deborah Plummer March 7, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Thanks for sharing this account. Hearing about the tragedy in Boston was surreal. I could not believe it. My prayers go out to the families and the community.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 8, 2012 at 4:08 pm

I can’t imagine what you thought in Boston when you heard “Chardon” on the national news, Debbie. Your prayers are greatly appreciated by all, I’m sure. Thank you!

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Betty Nagel March 8, 2012 at 4:54 pm

It seems that no little corner of the world is safe from violence of one sort or another. When I heard of the shooting in Chardon, I followed the news reports closely and prayed for everyone involved. Your account put “faces” to this tragedy. It’s inspiring to hear how the community pulled together to support victims and families. Our Cincinnati/Tri-State area has experienced violence of another nature from the recent tornados. Community support is everything. In reaching out in big and small ways, we put a “face” on our good and gracious God, and goodness prevails. Thanks, Melannie, for your blog.

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Melannie Svoboda SND March 8, 2012 at 5:16 pm

Thank you, Betty, for reminding us that no tragedy is “generic.” All involve particular individuals with particular “faces.” And I certainly agree with your final words: “In reaching out in big and small ways, we put a “face” on our good and gracious God.” Amen!

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