Residents shocked as shooting shatters quiet Chardon

Associated Press

(AP) — Geauga County Commissioner Mary Samide’s voice trembled with emotion as she spoke after learning that a Chardon High School student had died from injuries suffered in a shooting at school Monday morning.

“This has rocked our community to the very soul,” she said. “We’re terribly upset. To lose someone. … It’s personal, very personal. This is a small community — it’s like your own son, your own daughter. I can’t imagine, or ever would have imagined, this would happen. … We’re heartbroken.”

Her comments were echoed by others in the semirural town of about 5,000 residents.

“Not in Chardon,” said Pat Martin, Antiques on the Square owner and former Chardon Square Association president. “We are a storybook community and it certainly proves to us it can happen anywhere. It will forever change our community. People are really just numb and [there are] a lot of tears.”

Chardon resident Dan Ziehlke lives and works near the school.

“We’re known for the Maple Festival and the biggest snowfalls in Ohio,” he said on Twitter. “Small, peaceful, safe. That’s Chardon.”

He described his neighborhood as eerily quiet after a morning filled with sirens and helicopters hovering overhead.

Chardon City Councilwoman Nancy McArthur and other city officials commended the school and safety forces for their handling of the incident. She was glad to be at a meeting in nearby Lake County rather than at her job on the west side of Cleveland when her husband called with the news. Their 13-year-old son attends the middle school.

“I don’t know what to think,” she said. “It could happen anywhere. … You just don’t ever expect it to happen in your front yard.”

Chardon City Hall last week hosted a newly formed Geauga County Opiate Task Force, organized after schools Superintendent Joe Bergant approached Mayor Phil King about problems in the district.

“He said he has seen an increase in violence and fights, and would like to do some public education,” King said.

Bergant said destructive behaviors appear to be on the rise.

“It’s an ever-present problem in all schools,” he said. “We deal with it day in and day out. As a county, we need to do something with it.”

In the shooting aftermath, King said, “I think the community’s going to come together fine. This is a very good community.”

Martin agreed.

“We all look out for each other,” she said. “It will make us more diligent to continue to look and listen and keep track of things. I think it will bring us closer together than really be a detriment to us as a community.”

Prayer vigils have been planned for Monday and Tuesday nights.