February 29th, 2012
05:35 PM ET

Covering the Ohio school shooting felt too close to home

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.

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Filed under: Crime • Ohio
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. saywhat

    " I have covered more than enough school shootings'. Speaks volume about this growing worrisome phenomenon.

    February 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      Let me tell you a story about a 55 year old man in a small town who was upset that a property tax to build a school was levied.He believed the tax was the reason his farmland was being forclosed,so he planned to take his revenge on the school and surrounding neighborhood.
      He was a man in a position of trust,so he was able to sneak explosives into this school over the course of a few months.
      When he was ready he began,it was a school morning in may.He beat his wife to death and set his house on fire.While the local fire department was coming to put out that fire they heard an explosion from the school.Several children were Injured and killed,as well as plenty of other innocent victims.As his property burned down and the explosives in the school were going off,he drove his car up to where the rescuers were gathering,and set off a bomb in his car,killing himself,the school superintendent and several others.Afterwards they found some of his explosives didnt even go off.
      He managed to kill 44 people,38 of them children.He also Injured another 58.
      Shocking you say?What is this world coming to you are probably thinking right now.
      Except this happened in 1927,almost 85 years ago.Crazy can happen at any day and age.
      And that was the Bath,MI school massacre

      March 1, 2012 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Guest

      The worst part is(besides the murder of innocent children of course) was that while this person was blaming others for all his financial problems,afterwards they determined he owned enough unused farm equipment that he could have easily sold it off and paid his mortgage.Instead of putting his work into taking care of his own problems and dealing with them,he decided to be a complete d1kk and screw up the lives of those around him.
      You will be happy to know no one attended his funeral,and he was buried in an unmarked grave,just so the cemetery ground doesnt smell like p1ss,from the long line of locals and descendents constantly forming to take one on his grave.

      March 1, 2012 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
    • James B

      Actually is is not growing or getting worse, it has been fairly steady since Columbine. Fact is murder rate is down nationally.

      March 1, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. high hopes

    Why don't you write something meaningful
    like what it must be like to be deemed an
    "At Risk" child in your small little snowy
    town where everyone knows your business
    and you get to ride the small bus?

    We should all be so lucky!

    Another Brick in the Wall
    ~Pink Floyd

    February 29, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Considering that "The Wall" came out in 1980, look how long these problems have been recognized by the entertainment indusstry...

      This whole thing is so sad, and I am so sorry for the families affected....

      February 29, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. high hopes

    By the way, I prefer his poetry over your
    quaint story about your happy little
    "home" coming.

    ~Just sayin'

    February 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. yousef

    the ohio school handles the situation terribly! they should all be fired if they cant even protect our own sons and daughters!! ughhh

    February 29, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. 1608

    Small town big city, no place to hide. Live with it people. Sad just so sad.

    February 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lora Johnson

    This was so perfectly written. The ending paragraph brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

    March 1, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. HMB

    Please I beg of you, I am from Canada and you have to get rid of your hand guns, please there is no use for them you can have a long gun in your house to protect yourself but get rid of the hand guns, leave those to the cops!!!!

    March 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really???

      You just don't get it do you. A man in China SLASHED kids to death with a knife. A 17 year old stabbed 2 victims at school & one of them just died. That pig farmer in YOUR COUNTRY killed 49 women & it is likely he did not use a gun. The REAL common thread is violence & a lack of respect for life. It looks like yours are quieter & get to kill more before they go down. How's that sausage taste?

      March 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |