A Year Later: Still One Heartbeat

Sarah Oglesbee
There is a quaint, little town that sits upon a hill in Northeastern Ohio. Until a year ago, it was not a well-known place. Situated thirty miles east of Cleveland, the only notable identifier is its maple syrup. On February 27, 2012, the town of Chardon became known for something far worse: the scene of yet another school shooting. It was a typical Monday morning until gun fire echoed throughout the cafeteria. At approximately 7:30 A.M., T.J. Lane opened fire on students in the Chardon High School cafeteria. Even though the shooting lasted only minutes, three lives were lost, three were injured, and an entire community was changed forever.

In the days following the shooting, the outpour of love and support was overwhelming. Banners were sent to Chardon High from all across the country. Vigils were held. Neighboring communities showed their support by gathering to pray with Chardon. This community rose from the ashes as one, refusing to be defined as just one more place on a growing list of tragedies.

Students and families gathered on Chardon Square to help heal and console one another. When the students marched from Chardon Square to the high school on their first day back, the streets were lined with supporters holding signs and handing out words of encouragement: We are Chardon. One heartbeat. Those words became Chardon’s mantra. A way to remind the students, the community, and the watchful eyes of the media that Chardon was united in its grief and healing.

As a Chardon High alum, it was surreal to see such a familiar place under attack. The cliché “things like that don’t happen here” rang true. But it did happen here. Hundreds of Chardon alums all across the world reached out on Facebook, proving that social networking is truly amazing. Profile pictures were changed to a black ribbon with one heartbeat written below it. Friends sent love and support to their alma mater across the miles, proving: once a Hilltopper, always a Hilltopper.

Has anything changed one year later? It is not easy, but the students and faculty keep moving forward one day at a time. The red ribbons are still tied to those trees. There are still One Heartbeat signs in front yards. The day before the anniversary, Lane pled guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count of felonious assault. His plea saved the community from the agony of a murder trial. Lane’s sentencing trial is scheduled for March, and he will receive anywhere from twenty-three years to life in prison.

Wednesday marked the one year anniversary of that tragic day. It has been a long, hard year of healing for Chardon. The lives of Demetrius Hewlin, Russell King Jr., and Danny Parmetor will never be forgotten. In commemoration, Chardon High School students made the reverse of last February’s march and walked from the high school up to Chardon Square for a short vigil. Once again, residents lined the streets to give them applause. That evening, a candle-lit vigil was held around Chardon Square.

Reverend Dan Redmond of St. Mary’s Church reminded the community that “It’s not easy to see light in a tragedy,” and “We can’t let that light be extinguished by fear and bitterness.” To see so much light coming out of something so dark is really inspiring. In a media-driven world where it seems second-nature to focus on the bad, Chardon students are uniting and showing everyone there is more to this story.

After the vigil, residents and students gathered at Chardon High School for the release of one hundred red lanterns. The crowd clustered in groups of four or five, sharing candle flames to help each other light their lanterns. Three lanterns were released first: one for Demetrius, one for Russell, one for Danny. Everyone stood in silence as those three lanterns ascended into the pitch black sky. Three beacons of light against the darkness. Several minutes later, the remaining lanterns were released. Brightly burning, they speckled the night sky as they soared up over Chardon High School - representing a year of healing and letting go.

In the words of Chardon High principal, Andrew Fetchik, “It will take time, but we will recover from this tragedy. We will show the world just how excellent it is to be a Hilltopper, and we will do this with one heartbeat.”

The students, faculty, and community are changed because of what happened on February 27, 2012. It is something that will always be with Chardon and everyone connected to it. Hopefully, time will numb the pain, but the Hilltoppers will keep moving forward just the same. Giving a little extra love each night. Lending a helping hand where one might not have been lent before that day. Understanding a stranger. Being united. Healing as one heartbeat.