My hometown of Chardon, Ohio, experienced a moment of impact that inflicted deep and immeasurable pain on Monday morning, February 27, 2012, when Chardon High School became the target of a merciless school shooting. The horrific event turned our serene, small-town upside down and inside-out. Three young children lost their lives, and another boy suffered permanent paralysis. As a mom of three, I simply can’t fathom the pain.
These are just the physical losses and scars. It’s impossible to quantify the emotional wounds of grieving families, first-responders, teachers and staff, young and impressionable minds, and an entire community at large. The trauma remains deep within the heart of each person affected.
My three kids were students at Chardon High at the time, and words will never capture the emotional horror of that day. My husband and I happened to be at an intersection catty-corner to the school minutes after the first shots were fired. An unmarked police car raced in front of us and barricaded us in, leaving us to sit and watch the unthinkable unfold before our eyes.
The panic and helplessness of knowing our two sons were in a building with an active shooter defy comprehension. The only balm to our raging fear at that moment was we allowed our daughter to skip school that day for a basketball celebration. Had we not agreed the night before, she would have been five tables away from the deranged shooter. My heart still drops when I think about the what-ifs.
While my boys escaped with no physical harm and my daughter was spared the on-site experience, the emotional toll on all three was immense. As a family, we all continue to process and heal—this kind of trauma sticks to your insides. But you learn to live with the haunting memories, process the hard emotions, and feel grateful for your blessings. I can still look in my kid’s eyes, feel their warm embraces, hear their voices, speak to them, observe them grow up, celebrate their joys, and encourage them through their struggles.
Devastatingly, three sets of parents in Chardon and hundreds of other parents across the country in other communities and across the globe don’t have these opportunities anymore. Violence stole their children way too young; a nightmare most of us only worry about became their reality. Every time I hear about another school shooting or violence of any kind, my insides turn, and my heart collapses for all the people involved. More members are thrust into an unfathomable ‘me too’ club.
One of the ways I cope with these continued tragedies is to search for displays of kindness and compassion all around me. Doing so fills me up, restores my faith in humanity, and inspires me to offer more of the same to others. Compassion and kindness is what helped our hurting town wade through the aftermath and find the strength to carry on.