LIMA, Ohio (AP) — A teenager convicted of killing three students at an Ohio high school scrambled over a fence to escape a state prison with two other prisoners and was captured nearly six hours later hiding by a church early Friday, authorities said.
T.J. Lane, 19, was caught only about 100 yards from the prison by two State Highway Patrol troopers at 1:20 a.m. A second prisoner had been caught almost immediately after the Thursday night escape, and troopers apprehended the third three hours after finding Lane.
Nearly 200 miles to the east, Lane’s brief taste of freedom frightened residents in Chardon, the community outside of Cleveland where Lane fatally shot three students and wounded two others. At his sentencing hearing last year, Lane unbuttoned a dress shirt to reveal a T-shirt scrawled with the word “killer.” He wore a similar shirt during the shootings. He cursed and made an obscene gesture as the judge gave him three consecutive life sentences.
Police officers were sent late Thursday to guard the homes of the families of Lane’s victims, while school officials huddled and ultimately decided to cancel classes Friday and make counseling available for students and the larger community.
“The last several hours have been very difficult as we come to grips with this situation,” Chardon schools superintendent Michael Hanlon said at a news conference early Friday after Lane was caught.
The escape occurred at Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution, a minimum- and medium-security prison in Lima about 80 miles south of Toledo. Asked why a convicted killer was not at a more secure prison, warden Kevin Jones said: “That will be something we’ll have to sit down and look at.”
Jones said he saw Lane after he was captured and that the teen did not say anything. An investigation is underway to determine how the men, who were outside for recreation, managed to climb over the prison’s perimeter fence, the warden said.
Authorities wouldn’t say whether Lane and the other two prisoners planned their escapes together. A spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said Lane did not resist when troopers found him.
Authorities didn’t release information about the prisoner who was caught almost immediately.
Lt. Eric Caudill at the highway patrol’s Columbus hub confirmed the third prisoner was taken into custody around 4:20 a.m. Friday but said he didn’t immediately have details about how or where. That prisoner was identified as 45-year-old Clifford Opperud, who was serving time for robbery, burglary and kidnapping.
Lane pleaded guilty last year to aggravated murder charges in the February 2012 shooting spree at Chardon High School. Lane, then 17, said he didn’t know why he shot the teens.
Prosecutors say Lane took a .22-caliber pistol to school and fired 10 shots, killing Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, while wounding two others. One of the wounded students is now paralyzed.
Lane was waiting in the cafeteria for a bus to take him to an alternative school for students who don’t fare well in traditional settings.
Before Lane’s case went to adult court in 2012, a juvenile court judge ruled that Lane was mentally competent to stand trial despite his claims to a court psychologist that he suffers from hallucinations, psychosis and fantasies.
At his sentencing, Lane was defiant, smiling and smirking throughout, including while four relatives of the victims spoke.
Reached Thursday at her home in Chardon, Dina Parmertor, mother of Daniel Parmertor, said she was disgusted that Lane had escaped.
“I’m extremely scared and panic stricken,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
The escape marks the second time in about a year that the prisons department faces scrutiny over the handling of a notorious prisoner. Ariel Castro, who held three women captive in his Cleveland home for about a decade, was found dead kneeling in his cell and hanging from a sheet last September in what authorities and prison experts concluded was a suicide.
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