The school shooting that few remember

By Rob Cox
February 26, 2013

Newtown, Conn. ‑ What do you know about Chardon, Ohio? I have spent the past week putting this question to my friends and neighbors in Newtown, the place I have called home, off and on, since 1968. I asked my contacts, from the whip-smart hedge fund manager and graduate of Yale Law School to the big-hearted leader of a philanthropic foundation. Not one had heard of Chardon.

Shamefully, neither had I until two weeks ago, when I stumbled across a card sent to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My 12-year-old son and I were combing through a dozen boxes, from among the tens of thousands of cards and letters that have arrived at our town hall. We were looking for artwork we could use to decorate the office walls of Sandy Hook Promise, the nonprofit I co-founded with fellow citizens to help our community heal and eventually find its voice on matters related to eliminating gun violence

The card is simple – one page of white paper, folded and adorned with a valentine on the front. Inside, another heart, with a message in red marker: “Stay Strong + Stay United. In Chardon We Are One Heartbeat.” At first glance, there was nothing that distinguished this letter from the millions of others carrying similarly lovely sentiments. That was until I read the blue cursive writing inside.

“Ten months after our school shooting at Chardon High School on Feb. 27, 2012, we are still healing and supporting each other. We still have the red ribbons tied around trees, up on houses and various places in town.” Gutted and embarrassed that Chardon had not registered in the least, I turned to the Internet.

It turns out that on that day in the school cafeteria, 17-year-old T.J. Lane fired 10 shots from a .22-caliber semiautomatic Ruger handgun, a weapon he obtained from his uncle’s home the night before. Demetrius Hewlin, 16; Daniel Parmentor, 16; and Russell King, 17, died from their wounds. Three other teenagers were injured. (On Tuesday, Lane pleaded guilty to multiple homicide charges.)

How could it be that none of my unusually plugged-in friends, acquaintances or contacts ‑ with their top-shelf educations and access to information ‑ recalled what happened at Chardon, whose grim one-year anniversary approaches on Wednesday?

More than anything, this seemingly collective failure to recognize Chardon’s tragedy embodies what the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan railed against in a classic 1993 essay on the subject of violence. “The amount of deviant behavior in American society,” Moynihan wrote in the American Scholar, has increased beyond the levels the community can ‘afford to recognize’ and that, accordingly, we have been re-defining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal’ level in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.”

The definition of deviancy, of course, has been the subject of much cultural warfare. But when it comes to violence, Moynihan’s warning is without controversy. It would appear that we have become inured not just to the awful shootings that take place every day in our cities but even to those exceptional acts of mass violence in seemingly peaceful hamlets like Chardon, and now Newtown.

Indeed, as I learned more about Chardon, I thought: What if a year ago, I had acted differently when those three boys, not much older than my own sons, were gunned down at their school? What if even a slice of the efforts I’ve dedicated to Sandy Hook Promise had been expended last February? What if a group like ours had formed in Chardon?

Could we have changed the course of events by asking for greater school safety measures; questioning the efficacy of mental health and wellness programs for teenagers and young adults; giving parents more tools to handle the most important undertaking of their lives; or urging legislators to insist on more robust gun regulations? If I hadn’t defined deviancy downward such that Chardon made so little difference to my consciousness a year ago, could I have helped prevent the massacre in my town.

Tussling with hypothetical questions like these is pointless. We can’t beat ourselves up for what we did not do. But as a nation, it is clear we must change. Twenty beautiful children never got off their yellow school bus to go home on Dec. 14. Six of their teachers never came home to their families. There is no excuse for inaction.

PHOTO: A memorial is seen as Chardon Local School District buses arrive for the first day of regular schedule classes since the school shootings in Chardon, Ohio March 2, 2012.REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton


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Which is the greater tragedy, that we have become accustomed to acts of violence or that violence is so prominent is our society?

Is it perhaps because we are a nation of warriors? We honor warriors. We rejoice when one who has harmed us is brought to justice.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

Monkey see, monkey do. Chances are that the author, when growing up, didn’t see murder after murder on prime time television. He might have played an Atari with Pong, not Assassins Creed. He probably listened to singers like Johnny Cash, not Slipknot. They banned Elvis performances on television because he vibrated his hips, while every episode of CSI is filled with blood and guts. A person is what they eat, and they are also what they ingest mentally.

I’ve always wondered, if an act is illegal, why it is allowed to be depicted on television, video games, etc.? While we want to make sure our kids don’t wear an offensive t-shirt to school, we gather around the tv’s with them and feed them things more horrible and violent than any of us hope to ever endure. If you sow it, you’re going to reap it.

Posted by LysanderTucker | Report as abusive

And yet the rate of violence has been declining in the US steadily now for 20 years when Moynihan wrote that article. If you eliminate one minority’s portion of acts of violence, we are in the same realm as the EU nations for violence. Sure we use more guns, but we don’t have the hooliganism of the UK either. nor the sexual assaults.

/and just what is the OP’s versions of reality , that we become the victims of that portion of society who refuse to be peaceful? that rational people have no reason to assault one another btw a false assumption any way you look at it.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

Our town may be small where everybody knows your name, but we are Proud and One Heartbeat gets us through the year.

Posted by Oneheartbeat | Report as abusive

Today was a sad but uplifting day in Chardon. Thank you for these words. I told my wife shortly after our tragic shooting that it was sad that our society has become so perverse that “our” killings don’t even make the news! Here is a video from today’s events marking the anniversary of Chardon’s mass school murder.  /02/27/news/doc512e20000810e264300459.t xt

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

I remember it. I took note because I have the same model of gun as was used in the shooting, a 10 round .22 target pistol. It proved to me that no amount of anti-gun legislation will do anything to stop these shootings, short of repealing the 2nd amendment and confiscating all guns, as well as complete eradication of the black market created by the war on drugs.

I can unload my Mk. III’s 10 round magazine in about 4 seconds, grouping within 6 inches at 25 yards. I can change mags in about 2 seconds. If I had enough magazines, I’m sure I could put 90 rounds a minute through it. A gun is a tool designed to kill. Demonizing particular models is simply asinine.

I also know a little something about these mass shootings. Did you know they are actually becoming fewer and fewer, even while the population rises? The peak of mass shooting violence was during the prohibition era. It rose again through the 70s, peaked in the 80s, and has been on a downtrend since. These shootings actually comprise of less than a percent of yearly gun deaths in America.

Tragic? Sure.

A reason to surrender the rights granted to us by virtue of being (wo)men? Nope. I think my chances of being killed by a drone strike on US soil are greater than being killed in a school shooting, though I work in a school. But truly, my chances of dying to a lightning strike is a far greater threat. Where’s the cry to stop the tragedy of lightning?

Seriously, before 9/11, we, as a nation, had a backbone. We seemed to understand there were some inherent risks associated with being a free society. Did the loss of 2 buildings and 4000 lives really damage the collective psyche so badly?

Posted by Jameson4Lunch | Report as abusive

Not that I have any deep insight into urban society, but it would seem to me that the thousands of murders that occur across the US each year mainly take place in urban areas and involve drug and or gang activity. The overall numbers dwarf Newtown, but since these murders are not random, per se, and do not involve suburban white kids, most of America does not care.

It’s like an aunt of mine who lived in NYC and regularly heard gun shots used to say – “I don’t mind as long as they’re killing each other”. This would seem to be the normal train of thought for most of the US population, from the middle class up. Part of the issue, as refered to in the article, is that it takes large numbers of people being killed to get anyone’s attention. But, who is beign killed also matters.

Posted by mcoleman | Report as abusive