Junior Vicky Roethel, a former resident of Chardon, said life in the small town nearly 40 minutes from John Carroll University was pretty quiet.
“Nothing ever happened in Chardon when I was growing up,” she said. “The biggest thing that happened was that we got a lot of snow.”
Early Monday morning, a gunman opened fire on a group of students in the cafeteria at Chardon High School. As of Tuesday night, three students have passed away from their injuries, one is still being treated and another has been released from the hospital. The alleged teenage gunman, who was waiting at the high school for a bus to a vocational school, fled the scene, but was apprehended by authorities a short distance away.
Roethel had friends at Chardon High School that day, but they were not involved in the shootings.
“They are all safe and doing well,” she said. “Shaken up, but safe.”
The entire Chardon community, which Roethel described as “tight-knit,” is shaken by the events of Monday morning.
“Everyone goes to school together for 12 [or] 13 years,” she said. “We all know each other. The teachers aren’t just teachers, they’re more [like] parents. The students are more than that – they’re your siblings. It’s such a typical small town where everyone knows everyone.”
Even though she’s a resident student on campus, the events still shook Roethel.
“I wasn’t there, but it’s almost like I was. Friends have told me what happened, and it’s just crazy,” she said. “I never in my wildest dreams thought something like this could happen in Chardon.”
Back on campus, a prayer service was held Monday night in St. Francis Chapel. The service, which was concelebrated by the Rev. Jim Collins, S.J., and the Rev. Bernie McAniff, featured music, reflections and prayers. About 150 people attended the service.
“Given the short notice, I was pleased that so many people found out about it and were able to attend,” said Gail Roussey, campus ministry’s coordinator of liturgy. “Our goal was to provide support for those most directly impacted and to give hope to all of us. I think that the music, the prayers, Fr. Jim’s reflection and the presence of so many people who cared provided us all with the hope that we needed.”
The prayer service, Roussey said, was organized by campus ministry, Student Union, musicians and members of the choir, resident ministers, the University Counseling Center and Alpha Omega.
Roussey, who lives across the street from Chardon High School and whose daughters both attended the school, said the scene Monday morning was busy with students, parents, emergency vehicles and the media.
“One of the images I will not forget is the line of cars [of parents] trying to get to the high school to get to their children. They ended up parking many blocks away, and then rushed down the street,” she said via email. “Even though they were frantic and afraid, there was no pushing or panic. When they found their children, the relief was incredible and reunions tearful. They continued to hold onto each other, holding hands and arms as they walked back to get their cars. It is not often that you see so many parents holding the hands of 17- and 18-year-olds.”
Roethel said she believes everyone responded well to the situation. She named one teacher, Joe Ricci, in particular. According to The Associated Press, Ricci reportedly not only initiated lockdown on his classroom as soon as the first shots were fired, but also pulled a wounded student out of the hallway and comforted him. Ricci is reported to have even let the wounded student use his personal cellphone to call his girlfriend and relatives.
Roussey said the tragedy is personal for many.
“This is a community that works hard,” she said. “This is a terribly difficult situation, but the Chardon schools will do everything possible to help students and parents find a way to use their grief and anger for some good.”
A quote from the media on Monday resonated with Roussey, as well.
“As the superintendent said, we should all hug our children and parents as soon as we see them again,” she said.