Neighbors say school shooting suspect was normal kid

Wednesday , February 29, 2012 - 1:42 PM

School Shooting Ohio

Alissa Scully, right, leans on the shoulder of Tabitha Johnson, center, as they view a memorial...

Kevin Begos, Thomas J. Sheeran

CHARDON, Ohio-- The teenage suspect in a deadly shooting rampage at an Ohio high school was a normal boy who excelled in school and played outside often with his sister, building snow hills and skateboarding, a family friend said Wednesday.

Steve Sawczak said he never would have allowed his own grandchildren to play nearby if he thought anything was wrong with suspect T.J. Lane.

"We're all absolutely stunned," Sawczak told The Associated Press. "He's an average kind of kid."

Sawczak, 58, a pastor who works with troubled children, said he never saw similar signs in the boy. A next-door resident of Lane's grandparents for almost 25 years, he said the grandparents, who have custody of the teen, gave Lane a healthy place to live. They were actively involved in the life of Lane and his sister and often took them to school events.

"They are in shock," Sawczak said. "They are absolutely devastated."

At Chardon High School, the faculty parking lot was jammed Wednesday as teachers returned to the school for the first time since Monday's shooting, with grief counselors on hand inside if needed. Parents and students are encouraged to return to the school Thursday, and classes resume Friday.

Lane, 17, appeared briefly in juvenile court Tuesday as residents of the shaken community offered sympathy and support for families and friends of the three students who were killed and two who were wounded.

Hundreds of residents turned out for a vigil later that evening at St. Mary Catholic Church to pray and hear scripture readings, while overhead banners from a rival high school contained signatures from other students showing their support.

A prosecutor described suspect Lane as "someone who's not well" and said the teen didn't know the victims but chose them randomly.

Lane admitted taking a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to the 1,100-student Chardon High School and firing 10 shots at a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table Monday morning, prosecutor David Joyce said.

An 18-year-old girl who was hurt in the shootings was released from the hospital Tuesday and was home with family. The girl's family declined to comment Wednesday. The second injured teen remained in serious condition at a suburban Cleveland hospital.

Those trying to understand what prompted the shootings got few answers from Tuesday's court hearing, which came hours after the death toll rose to three.

Lane, a thin young man described by other students as extremely quiet, spoke little in court, where a judge ordered him held for at least 15 days.

Lane's grandfather, who has custody of the teenager, and two aunts joined him in court. The women lightly embraced the older man as the hearing began.

Prosecutors have until Thursday to bring charges and are expected to ask that Lane be tried as an adult. He will probably be charged with three counts of aggravated murder and other offenses, Joyce said.

The prosecutor appeared to rule out rumors and speculation that the young gunman lashed out after being bullied or that the shooting had something to do with drug-dealing.

"This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs," Joyce said. "This is someone who's not well, and I'm sure in our court case we'll prove that to all of your desires and we'll make sure justice is done here in this county."

Both sides in the case are under a gag order imposed by the judge at the prosecutor's request.

The judge also barred media outlets from taking photos of the faces of the suspect and some of his relatives. The Associated Press transmitted photos and video of Lane that were shot before the hearing. The AP and at least one other media outlet, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, plan to challenge the judge's order Wednesday.

Authorities said Tuesday that Demetrius Hewlin, 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, had died from their injuries. Daniel Parmertor, 16, died shortly after the shooting.

Hewlin attended Chardon High. King and Parmertor were students at the Auburn Career Center, a vocational school, and were waiting in the Chardon High cafeteria for their daily bus when they were shot.

Parmertor had just gotten his first job at a bowling alley and couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to pick up his first paycheck later this week, his parents said.

Instead, Bob and Dina Parmertor are considering burying the check with the body of their son.

"That's all he was talking about," Dina Parmetor said Wednesday on NBC's Today show. "'Mom, when I get home from school on Thursday, can you take me to pick it up?"'

Bob Parmertor said his son was a happy kid, always fun to be around, and fond of teasing him because he was taller.

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