Witnesses to deadly shooting at Ohio school describe chaos

8:56 PM, Feb 27, 2012   |    comments
By Tony Dejak, AP Students leave with parents after a shooting at Chardon High School on Monday in Chardon, Ohio.
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 By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

Senior Matt Goergen was in English class Monday morning when he saw two girls sprinting down the hallway "but thought nothing of it."

Then Principal Andrew Fetchik announced on the high school's public address system "We are on lockdown."

Goergen, 17, said he wasn't sure if it was a drill. But after the school's assistant principal repeated the message, Goergen said, "we thought something may be up."

Students crowded into the classroom and huddled into a corner.

"A girl sitting next to me got a call from her dad saying it was real," Goergen said. "We were all very scared."

On Monday morning a gunman opened fire inside Chardon High School's cafeteria, killing one student and wounding four others, authorities said.

The suspect, believed to be a student, was taken into custody near his car a half-mile from the suburban Cleveland school, the FBI said.

FBI agent Scott Wilson would not comment on a possible motive for the attack.

The victim has been was identified by the MetroHealth Medical Center as Daniel Parmertor. The slain student, Daniel Parmertor, an aspiring computer repairman, was shot while waiting for the bus for his daily 15-minute ride to a vocational center.

"We are shocked by this senseless tragedy," Parmertor's parents said in a prepared statement. "Danny was a bright young boy who had a bright future ahead of him. The family is torn by this loss."

Five students, including Parmertor, were taken to local hospitals. Parmertor later died. Sheriff Daniel McClelland said the shooter had already fled when officers arrived at the school.

Two other victims are in critical condition, a third is in serious condition and a fourth is listed as stable. McClelland did not release the names of the injured because they are minors.

Panicked students screamed and ran through the halls when the gunfire broke out at the start of the school day at the 1,100-student high school.

Heather Ziska, 17, said she was in the cafeteria when she and other students heard popping noises in the hall. She said she saw a boy she recognized as a fellow student come into the cafeteria and start shooting.

She said she and several others immediately ran outside, while other friends ran into a middle school and other students locked themselves in a teachers' lounge.

"Everybody just started running," said 17-year-old Megan Hennessy, who was in class when she heard loud noises. "Everyone was running and screaming down the hallway."

Early Monday afternoon a team of federal agents searched a complex of luxury homes on a lake on a rural road in Chardon. They searched a barn on the property and gathered on the porch of a large home overlooking the lake.

Agents were from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Freshman Danny Komertz, 15, said he was just about to leave for his first-period health class when he heard a loud popping sound and then saw the shooter open fire.

He said one student was trying to get under a table to protect himself and shield his face.

Komertz said the shooter was known as an outcast who had apparently been bullied. He said there were at least 100 students in the cafeteria at the time and that most fled immediately as shots were fired.

Seanna Sicher, 18, says the school went in lockdown mode shortly after morning announcments over the public address system.

"My class assumed that it was just a drill,'' says Sicher, 18. "It was maybe five minutes later when our teacher received an email and people started checking their phones. We realized immediately it was serious and the whole room felt silent. It was like a 9/11 movie the way everyone was trying desparately to reach friends and family."

The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer interviewed high school junior Nate Mueller who said he was hit in the right ear. Mueller identified the shooter by name but USA TODAY and other news organizations are withholding publication because he is a juvenile and no formal charges had been filed.

Mueller said he and his friends, including Russell King, Nick Walczak and Demetrius Hewlin, were sitting at their regular cafeteria table when the shooter approached at about 7:30 a.m.

He said he heard a gunshot behind him. He turned and felt a sting on his ear.

"My friends were crawling on the floor, and one of my friends was bent over the table, and he was shot," Mueller said. "It was almost like a firecracker went off. I turned around and saw him (the shooter) standing with a gun and I saw him take a shot."

Mueller, who has a scratch on his upper right ear, said he ran out of the building, hid behind a car and called 911.

He said his group had been friends with the shooter through middle school, but in high school the shooter went his separate way.

Russell, he said, had recently started dating the shooter's ex-girlfriend, who is home schooled.

"He was silent the whole time," said Mueller, who at the time of the shooting was waiting for a bus to his culinary arts classes at Auburn Career Center. "That's what made it so random."

Mueller told the newspaper that the shooter typically waits for a bus that goes to Lake Academy, a school in Willoughby serving at-risk students.

Sophomore Trevor Miducki, 16, was in the hallway next to the cafeteria when he saw a pair of girls "running down the hallway, just like, sprinting" away from the cafeteria.

Though he was near the shooting scene, he didn't hear shots. But moments later, the school went "straight into lockdown" after he made his way to first-period English class.

Miducki heard sirens outside but wasn't quite sure at first what was going on.

"We were all wondering what happened," he said. "We were all frantically texting our parents."

With so many students using cellphones to communicate with the outside world, Goergen said, "no one's messages were going through. We were keeping calm, but were all so scared."

Miducki said the atmosphere during lockdown was calm at first, but that as the morning wore on, "it started to get more frantic and panicky."

After police confirmed that a shooting had taken place, "it was pretty panicked. Girls shaking, guys shaking, people calling their moms. It got pretty intense pretty fast."

He and other students said relying on social networking was helpful - except when it wasn't. Rumors flew around Twitter and many users would simply repeat "the first thing they hear," Miducki said. "We heard so many different stories - it was crazy what we heard."

"Most of the stuff that was going around was just rumors - things people were seeing on the news," said Logan Karr, 18, a senior.

Hundreds of parents who were notified of the shooting via a phone alert system rushed to the school Monday morning. Police, FBI SWAT team members, ambulances and other officials were on the scene.

Students still inside the high school were moved to a nearby elementary school for safety. They were released to their parents five at a time.

Parent Teresa Hunt told CNN she got a text from her daughter around 7:45 a.m. that the school was in a lockdown situation. Her daughter, who was not identified, said she heard five shots down the hallway near the cafeteria.

Her daughter said she was locked in a classroom.

"I believe she was sitting on the floor with another friend," Hunt said. "The last time I talked to her, she was crying, she was trembling."

All Chardon schools, from K-12, will be closed on Tuesday, School Superintendent Joseph Bergant said.

The Rev. Peter McCurdy of the First Baptist Church of Painesville, Ohio, 20 minutes north of Chardon, said there will be a prayer vigil Monday night at the church. He said he expects between 200 and 400 people.

"Chardon is one of those small communities. Everybody knows everybody," said McCurdy, adding he was a victim of a shooting when he was a child. "I don't know how to judge (the situation). God just said open up the church, so I did."

Miducki said he eventually made his way home and proceeded to watch local news coverage of the shooting for about two hours. Speaking by phone around 2 p.m., he said he was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the shooting.

"It's so hard to grasp," he said. "This is literally something you would see in a movie or a video game."

"Everyone right now is really just kind of blown away," Carr said. "Everyone's just kind of in disbelief, really."

Bus driver Ken Shieff had dropped off a load of high school students at the school 15 minutes before the shooting. After the school closed, only two students took his bus home. Parents picked up the others.

"It's not supposed to happen in Chardon," Shieff said. "It's not supposed to happen anywhere."

Contributing: Dennis Cauchon in Chardon, Ohio; Carolyn Pesce, Gary Strauss, Douglas Stanglin and Alicia McCarty in McLean, Va.; the Associated Press

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