CHARDON, Ohio (Reuters) – A student gunman opened fire with a handgun in the cafeteria of a high school near Cleveland on Monday morning, fatally wounding one boy and injuring three other boys and one girl before he was chased from the building by a teacher and was caught, police said.
The injured students were rushed to area hospitals where a boy identified as Daniel Parmertor, 16, died at MetroHealth System in Cleveland. Parmertor, a high school junior, went to a nearby vocational school where he studied computer science, and was waiting in the cafeteria for a bus when the gunman opened fire.
“We are shocked by this senseless tragedy,” said a statement from Parmertor’s family, provided by MetroHealth. “Danny was a bright young boy who had a bright future ahead of him. The family is torn by this loss. We ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
The Ohio shooting is the worst at a U.S. high school in 11 months and the worst in Ohio since late 2007, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Two of the four other victims was in critical condition at MetroHealth, according to Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna. A 17-year-old boy was in serious condition and an 18-year-old girl was stable at Hillcrest Hospital in suburban Cleveland, a spokeswoman said.
Geauga Sheriff’s department officials said the suspect was caught about half an hour after the shooting with the help of citizens and a police dog.
Police have not formally identified the gunman, who is a juvenile, but students, parents of students and local media said his name was T.J. Lane. By early afternoon, police and FBI had surrounded a brown house on Wilder Road in a rural, wooded area of Chardon identified in public records as belonging to Thomas Lane.
The shooting took place at around 7:30 a.m. local time while students were in the cafeteria studying and eating breakfast. A Chardon High School student, Danielle Samples, 16, who was in the cafeteria at the time, told Reuters she heard a series of “pops” and someone yelled to run down the hallway into a classroom. While Samples was in the hall, she heard another round of pops.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Samples said of the experience. “It’s very surreal.”
She said the shooter was not a student at Lake Academy in Willoughby, which serves at-risk students. He was at Chardon’s cafeteria waiting for a bus. She said the student lived with his grandparents and sister.
Chardon freshman Sofia Larkins, 14, was sitting with Lane’s sister when the shooting began. “She didn’t know anything,” said Larkins. “She was surprised as anyone.”
The two girls fled to a teacher’s lounge when the shooting began, and began hearing talk that T.J. was the shooter, Larkins said. His sister began crying.
Larkins said school officials came to the lounge and took his sister away for questioning.
Fellow students described T.J. Lane as “quiet.”
Chardon, the seat of Geauga county, is a semi-rural, fairly well-educated and affluent town about 35 miles from Cleveland with a population of about 5,000, according to the U.S. Census and Chardon’s web site. The town contains neatly restored brick buildings downtown with quaint offices and shops. Its web site describes it as the center of the state’s maple syrup industry.
After the shooting, emergency vehicles rushed to the high school, where solemn-looking students streamed from the building to meet parents. The entire school district was closed for the day and will be closed Tuesday.
“We want them to stay home and spend some time reflecting on family,” said an emotional Joseph Bergant, superintendent of Chardon schools, at a news conference. He urged parents to hug and kiss their children. He praised the actions of teachers, who had been through disaster training and acted quickly to protect the students.
The teacher who chased the gunman from the school was not identified. Larkins said one teacher who was in the cafeteria at the time was a football coach, Frank Hall, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
The school that some of the injured students attended is Auburn Career Academy, a vocational school with 700 juniors and seniors taken from 11 surrounding school districts including Chardon, Auburn superintendent Maggie Lynch said. They were waiting in the cafeteria for the bus.
The mother of a student in Chardon, who asked not to be identified, said her son knew the alleged gunman.
“My son’s reaction was ‘this doesn’t surprise me.’ T.J. (Lane) was a nice sweet kid who was misunderstood and he probably cracked from being different,” she said.
The deadliest school shooting in the United States was the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. The worst high school shooting was the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and a teacher.
(Reporting By Kim Palmer, Andrew Stern and Ellen Wulfhorst; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Greg McCune)