Editor's note: The following is from CNN correspondent Martin Savidge, who has been covering Monday's school shooting that killed three students and injured two others in Chardon, Ohio.
I’ve covered more than enough school shootings. (One, by the way, is enough. But I’ve seen a half-dozen more.) So on Monday, sadly, maybe the headline of another wasn’t so shocking, but the location was: Chardon, Ohio. Unlike the other tragic places such as Jonesboro or Columbine, I know Chardon. I grew up in Northeast Ohio.
Right away, I called my wife's brother, who has two kids at Chardon schools. I got Bobby as he was waiting at the middle school to pick up his youngest son. I reached his wife as she was waiting at the elementary school to get their 18-year-old, who was evacuated there. You could hear the edge in their voices. I could also hear the anxious crowd of other parents talking in the background. Thankfully, both boys were all right, but five other students were not, and neither was the town I knew. I called CNN and volunteered to go.
Chardon sits about 30 miles east of Cleveland. It looks classic Norman Rockwell. There’s a still functioning old square with a courthouse and gazebo. Old homes date to the 1800s. The streets are two-lane and tree-lined. It’s where parents like to raise their kids, because they know they’ll be safe.
Locally, Chardon is known as the snow capital. They get lake-effect snow here. When a winter storm might drop 2 inches of snow to the west of Cleveland, it might drop 2 feet of snow on Chardon.
This winter, there hasn’t been much snow, and now Chardon's other constant, its safety, has disappeared.
When I arrived in Cleveland, I drove to my brother-in-law's house. His son, the senior, had been in constant contact as I traveled, telling me what happened and finding kids who were there and able to talk about it with CNN. Many kids were there in the cafeteria, hallways and classrooms. But now, hours later, the shock had set in, and most wouldn’t or couldn’t talk. Of course, we understood. But a few did want to let it out.
There was Ryan Doyle, the freshman who had study hall in the cafeteria, where it all began. He said the first gunshot sounded like the slap of a book hitting the floor. When he turned to see what happened, he saw the shooter with a gun extended toward a student on the ground. Then more shots. Ryan was struck by the sight of the muzzle flashes and that there were no words, no screams.
There was also Kaylee O’Donnell, who had been handing out papers in math class when the principal announced “Lockdown!” As she crouched on the floor, she thought it was a drill until she watched her teacher, Joseph Ricci, walk calmly to a closet and pull out and put on what the kids say was a bulletproof vest. He then slipped into the hallway, armed with only a hammer, to face the unknown and protect his students. He returned carrying a badly wounded student, Nick Walczack. Ricci and others comforted Walczak. Kaylee and several students prayed.
Finally, there was one other girl I interviewed. She’s 16, and her parents want her to remain anonymous. She was a rarity in Chardon because she had known the suspect, T.J. Lane, since middle school. Hers was the most compelling interview of all. She had the insight so many people wanted: What was T.J. like, and what had happened? She was our window into his world, and she spoke with an eloquence and wisdom far beyond her years. Most of all, she spoke with such soulful sadness of the “sweet” boy she befriended in middle school. He was different-looking and quiet; he was also funny. That was the T.J. Lane she once knew, the same T.J. Lane now accused of something she could not possibly understand.