CHARDON –– Wearing Chardon High School colors of red and black and carrying candles and red flowers, more than 3,000 people from Chardon and neighboring communities gathered inside and outside of St. Mary Catholic Church for an evening vigil Feb. 28 to pray with and comfort one another after the tragic shooting at the high school.
Five students were shot Feb. 27 when a teenager opened fire around 7:40 a.m. in the cafeteria at Chardon High School in the Cleveland suburbs.
The shooting victims were rushed to the hospital, where Daniel Parmertor, 16, a St. Mary parishioner, was declared dead. Russell King Jr., 17, was pronounced dead at 1 a.m. Feb. 28, and Demetrius Hewlin, 16, died later that day. Demetrius’ mother, Phyllis, is a member of St. Mary Parish. Nick Walczak, 17, remained hospitalized in serious condition March 1.
The fifth victim, Joy Rickers, 18, was in another part of the school when she was shot; she was released from the hospital Feb. 28.
T.J. Lane, the 17-year-old student accused of the shooting spree, was charged in juvenile court March 1 with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and felonious assault.
St. Mary Church is across the street from Chardon Middle School and Chardon High School, and its pastor, Father Daniel Redmond, said the church has remained open and welcoming to anyone who wants to pray or talk to counselors. He said youths from the parish’s Life Teen group also had gathered for prayer.
“Generally, it’s just shock that everyone is feeling,” Father Redmond told the Catholic Universe Bulletin, newspaper of the Cleveland Diocese. “We’ve heard over and over, you never thought it would happen here. People are coming together. It’s a close-knit community and everyone is helping each other.”
Daniel’s funeral was scheduled for March 3 at St. Mary Church, and services were planned there for Demetrius and Russell on March 6 and 7, respectively.
While no one from nearby St. Mary School was involved in the shooting incident at the high school, St. Mary Church offered its parking lot to parents and law enforcement during the emergency to help parents and students connect after Chardon schools were closed and students sent home.
Father Redmond said aside from hosting the community prayer vigil, the parish will remain a support for anyone in need of help coping with the tragedy. The parish tied red ribbons on its trees and flew the flag at half staff.
“We’re making our church available to the community,” he said. “We’re just trying to be as available as possible. We appreciate everyone’s prayers and concern. Everyone is really pulling together.”
Father Redmond added that helping people sort out how God could allow this tragedy will be challenging, but that through faith and prayer the community will carry on.
“We want to let people know that God is truly with us, loving us with an everlasting love,” he said. “God is with us. God is love. God is in the midst of this.”
During the prayer vigil, young and old wore red sweatshirts and red ribbons showing their support for the Chardon community. They lit candles and sang the hymns with the choir.
Amanda Dombrowski, a freshman at the University of Akron, came home to her parish of St. Mary to show support.
“I live here and care about the people,” she said. “I’m just praying for everyone.”
Joe and Sandy Schultz, members of St. Mary Parish, brought their two daughters, Katarina, 10, and Claudia, 7, to the vigil to show their support for the families who lost children.
They said they’ve been talking with their girls about the incident and reassuring them they are safe and that they can always turn to them or to God when in trouble.
“We’ve told them to remember if they are feeling that things are out of hand, they can always come to us or talk to someone,” Sandy said.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, in Chardon since the shooting, spoke to the crowd reassuring them that “all of Ohio is praying for them,” and saying that this week, all Ohioans are from Chardon.
He also spoke about faith, reminding the crowd that Jesus told his disciples that God has many rooms in His mansion.
“Daniel, Russell and Demetrius, they’ve got a room in the mansion,” Kasich said. “They’ve got a room in the house of the Lord. … We will never forget this time, but the sun will rise again.”
The Parmertor family released a statement Monday, asking that their privacy be respected at this time. A funeral Mass was to be celebrated for Daniel March 3 at St. Mary Church.
“We are shocked by this senseless tragedy. 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.”
Cleveland Bishop Richard G. Lennon released a statement Feb. 27 offering prayers and condolences to the families and the Chardon community.
“The Catholic community in the Diocese of Cleveland shares the grief of the families and friends of the five victims in the shooting this morning at Chardon High School,” he said. “We continue to struggle in disbelief with the horrifying nature of the incident and we look to God to bring us peace and comfort.
“We ask for everyone’s prayers in order to bring healing to the families of the victims, to the Chardon community, and to the family of the young man who is reported to be responsible for this terrible tragedy.”