US school shooting shocks small town

2012-02-28 14:00
Alissa Sully, aged 17, hugs a friend before a prayer service for victims of a school shooting at Chardon Assembly of God in Chardon, Ohio. (Mark Duncan, AP)

Alissa Sully, aged 17, hugs a friend before a prayer service for victims of a school shooting at Chardon Assembly of God in Chardon, Ohio. (Mark Duncan, AP)

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Chardon - Shocked residents of this small Ohio town on Tuesday wondered how a local teenager could have opened fire in a high school cafeteria, killing a fellow student in America's latest campus shooting.

As the media spotlight shone on the small town of Chardon, near Cleveland, the questions raised by previous tragedies loomed once more - about the gunman's demons, the missed warning signs and the country's lax gun laws.

The shooter wounded four other students, leaving two hospitalised in critical condition, before fleeing the scene and turning himself into police as panicked parents raced to the school to see if their children were safe.

Fellow students described the gunman as an "outcast" who had suffered bullying and said he had posted warnings on Twitter and left disturbing messages on Facebook.

Children were preparing for class at Chardon High when the teenager opened fire with a handgun, apparently targeting one group in particular.

Panicked students, taken by surprise as they were eating breakfast and waiting for first period to start, screamed and sprinted out of the cafeteria, fearing for their lives.

Tunnel vision

Nate Mueller, a junior at the school, described the first few seconds of mayhem, as he saw one of his friends bend over a table bleeding and another fall to the ground in a pool of blood before a shot grazed his own ear.

"It was terror. Everything had just gone tunnel vision, like, I need to get out of here," Mueller told ABC News.

"You see glances of your friends laying all over the place. There's blood, there's people screaming, everybody's just running in different directions and you're just trying to get out."

A teacher eventually chased the shooter from the school, as the town of 5 000 residents was placed on lockdown and the victims were rushed to hospital, some by helicopter.

The suspect was apprehended by police a short while later after turning himself in to bystanders, but it soon emerged that one victim, 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor, had died in hospital.

Mueller told CNN he had been friends with Parmertor, describing him as the "nicest most polite kid on earth".

FBI on hand

Mueller said he knew the shooter as well, but was at a loss for a possible motive. The gunman's face was "expressionless", he told CNN. "I can't even explain it. It looked like he was on a mission."

Chardon police chief Tim McKenna confirmed that police had arrested a "juvenile" suspect, but said no name would be released because he has not yet been charged.

The FBI was helping the sheriff's department search the suspect's home.

Earlier, masked Swat teams had ringed Chardon High, conducting security sweeps so that the building could be evacuated and the pupils transported to a nearby elementary school to be released to parents.

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

Word of the shooting sent fearful parents rushing to the school, where they went through a protracted process of being reunited with their children.

"We feel so disheartened - it's going to take me a moment to get back together here. We certainly hope those families know that they're in our thoughts and our prayers," said Chardon schools superintendent Joe Bergant.

Candlelight vigil

Chardon resident Karen Porter said the close-knit community was shocked over the shooting. "This is hometown USA in the best sense of the word. It's not what you'd expect at all.

"This is so sad on so many levels," she said. "I feel sorry for the kids that were injured, that's such a tragedy. The kids that witnessed the shooting will be forever changed."

A candlelight vigil service was scheduled for Tuesday night at a local church and grief counsellors were on call to help the small-town Ohio community deal with the traumatic event.

Announcing that classes on Tuesday would be cancelled, Bergant added: "I hope every parent, if you haven't hugged or kissed your kid in the past few days, takes that time."

The last major school shooting incident in Ohio was in Cleveland in 2007 when a 14-year-old student killed himself after wounding two teachers and two fellow students.

The deadliest school shooting in the United States was the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. The worst high school shooting was in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two students killed 12 fellow students and a teacher.


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