In a serene suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, a 17-year-old boy walked into the high school cafeteria early on a Monday morning and opened fire. Three boys were killed, three other children were wounded. The shooter, T.J. Lane, was arrested, charged with homicide and has been added to the grim roster of school shooters alongside the Virginia Tech and Columbine killers.
T.J. Lane was charged with three counts of aggravated murder, one for each of the students who were killed in the attack, two counts of aggravated attempted murder for Walczak and Rickers, the gravely wounded students, and one count of felonious assault for Mueller, the student who was grazed with a bullet. Lane, due to his age, was ineligible for the death penalty, but he received three life sentences without the possibility of parole and an additional 37 years for attempted murder, felonious assault, and using weapons in the crimes.
T.J. Lane posted a self-written parable to his Facebook page two months before he took a gun to school and opened fire, shooting six people and killing three. His story was about a friendless and lonely man wandering the streets, filled with contempt for those around him. The man is likened to both God and to death, and the last line is chilling:
Now! Feel death, not just mocking you. Not just stalking you but inside of you. Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might. Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you.
This story has lead many to suspect that Lane’s motive in the killings was to get back at those who bullied him. Eyewitnesses said he targeted one specific group of kids when he began shooting — a group of students who took the bus to an alternative high school with him every day. However, the prosecution is not using bullying as their principal motive for the killing, and some students have described Lane as an ordinary kid who was not bullied.
At 7:30 am on Monday, February 27, T.J. Lane came to school with a .22 caliber handgun and shot off ten rounds of ammunition in the cafeteria, just as school was starting. Six people were wounded, and three died from their injuries. T.J. Lane ran out of the school, chased by a teacher, and was soon apprehended by police and arrested.
One of the deputies investigating the case interviewed T.J. Lane but was unable to come up with an explanation for the rampage. According to the sheriff’s deputy, Lane said he “didn’t know” what his motive for the killing was. He said he had no idea how many he shot. He told the sheriff’s deputy that he wasn’t using drugs.
Lane’s attorneys will use this conversation as proof that Lane was in the midst of some kind of psychotic break, because he could not clearly recall what he was doing or why.
The suburban community of Chardon was devastated by the violence. The flag was flown at half-mast, and school was closed. Memorials to the victims were set up and soon filled with flowers and candles.
Lane was tried as an adult and plead guilty in February, 2013, to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count of felonious assault.
Geauga County Common Pleas Judge David Fuhry sentenced Lane on March 19, 2013, to three life sentences without the possibility of parole plus an additional 27 years for attempted murder, felonious assault, and using weapons in the crimes.
Although there was no trial, the sentencing hearing had its share of drama including several outbursts from the convicted teen. Lane wore a T-shirt with “killer” scrawled across it, gave the middle finger to victim’s families, cursed at them, and then told them “The hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory.”
T.J. Lane – The alleged killer, 17, lived with his grandparents following his parents divorce and his father’s incarceration for assault. Other students describe him as quiet but normal, with a fascination for posting pictures of guns on his Twitter account.
Daniel Parmertor – Parmertor, 16, was the first fatality after the attack. That morning he was waiting at the cafeteria for a school bus to take him to Auburn Career Center, where he studied computer science.
Russell King, Jr. – King, 17, died the day following the shooting at Cleveland’s MetroHealth Medical Center. He was dually enrolled at Chardon High School and Auburn Career Center, where he studied alternative energy technology. Some student witnesses allege that King was the intended target of the attack because he had recently started dating the shooter’s former girlfriend.
Demetrius Hewlin – Hewlin, 16, also died on the day following the attack. He liked to work out and was hoping to make the school football team. Phyllis Ferguson, the boy’s mother, said in an interview with ABC News, “He wasn’t a morning person, and he was late for school. But that one day he wasn’t late. We were running a little late, but we weren’t late enough. But it’s okay. It’s in God’s hands. Let His will be done.” His mother also told the media that Hewlin’s organs were donated, in one case saving the life of a child.
Nick Walczak – 17-year-old Walczak was shot several times. One bullet was lodged in his cheek, and he was also shot in the arm, neck and back. He is currently undergoing therapy to restore feeling to his legs.
Joy Rickers – Rickers, 18, was released from Hillcrest Hospital on February 28, the day after the shooting.
Nate Mueller – Mueller was not hospitalized for his injury, a graze to the ear. Along with Walczak, King and Parmertor, Mueller is a student at the Auburn Career Center.
Frank Hall – A teacher at Chardon High School, hailed as a hero by his students for his actions during the shootings. Hall chased T.J. Lane down after the shooting, causing him to leave the school, ending the danger and leading to his arrest.
Joseph Ricci – Also a teacher at Chardon High School, Ricci was starting his math class when shots rang out. He ordered his students on “lockdown,” donned a bulletproof vest, and charged out into the fracas, where he rescued Nick Walczak.
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September 12, 2012: After a Geauga County Court of Common Pleas bench officer approved an order that T. J. Lane be transferred to adult jail, the question became: What will become of Lane in adult jail?
Lane is due to turn 18 in a couple of days and shortly thereafter will be housed in a jail facility for adults while he awaits trial. Although Lane is accused of the horrific shooting attack of his classmates, he still looks like a very young teen with his slight build. He doesn’t look like a hardened criminal for a minute, and it’s difficult to imagine that he will be safe and protected in an adult inmate population where younger inmates are often preyed on.
The problem is, an 18-year-old facing charges of multiple homicides puts the youngest members of the juvenile jail population in jeopardy as well. In juvenile jail, there can be children as young as nine and ten mixed in with older teens at mealtimes and during recreation. Even if Lane doesn’t present a threat of physical harm to these younger children, authorities still worry that his presence will be a bad influence.
What may save Lane in the adult jails is his mental health status. Normally among jail populations, inmates suffering from mental disorders are separated from the general population to allow them greater access to medical treatment. Lane may find himself with a smaller group and more supervision, which would serve to protect his safety.
Introduction: There is little else that is as terrifying as a school shooting. Schools are one place where we hope our children will be free from violence and harm, and when a deranged gunman comes into those halls, we all lose some of that trust in humanity.
With a gunman as young as T.J. Lane — and a gunman who did not end his rampage by committing suicide, as so often happens in school shootings — the justice system has to pave a way for criminal proceedings that seek justice for the victims but are humane for the minor involved.
T.J. Lane will be prosecuted as an adult, due to the severity of the crimes, and he will be facing a sentence appropriate for an adult. However, the judge in this case is being very circumspect and conservative about media involvement in this case, and has imposed a gag order on the attorneys involved and will not allow media in the courtroom, to protect the privacy of the minors involved.