Vigil held for victims of Chardon High School shooting

Caitlyn Callahan

As more than a thousand gathered on Tuesday night inside and in front of St. Mary Church in Chardon, Ohio, a choir sang songs of praise for the victims of the shooting that happened at Chardon High School Monday morning.

Black and red ribbons were passed around to people in attendance, and the crowd was a sea of red showing support for the students. T-shirts were sold outside the church, with all proceeds going to the families of the victims.

The crowd, consisting of students, parents, teachers and other members of the community, stood quietly holding hands and hugging each other as they mourned the loss of three students and the injuries of two others.

The Reverend was the first speaker at the ceremony.

“I invite you to join with me to simply place our hearts, our minds, in the hands of our mighty God as we gather here this evening,” he said, and prayers and readings from the Bible followed.

Superintendent Joseph Bergant was the next speaker.

“I want you to know this: We need to smile as we get through this,” he said. “Even though the next several days are going to be very painful for a lot of us, we have three children to bury. We need to remember that our community will help pull us all through this.”

He then proceeded to speak about the shooting, which was followed by a moment of silence for the victims.

“What happened Monday was a human tragedy,” he said. “My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”

He then thanked the United Way Services in Geauga County for establishing the Chardon Healing Fund to raise money for individuals and families affected.

When Andy Fetchik, principal of Chardon High School, took the podium, tears filled his eyes and his voice quivered as he spoke.

“We mourn together, we struggle to understand, we support each other. We will work hard to heal,” he said. Then he sent a message to his students. “I’m really proud of you.”

After everyone sang “Let there be peace on Earth,” Governor John Kasich spoke. He began by thanking Fetchik and Bergant for their leadership and support since Monday, as well as the “unsung heroes” including the police chief, sheriff and teachers who responded to the situation.

“They were just doing their duties, but we will never forget them,” he said. He then spoke of the victims and the months of grieving and healing to come for the community.

“You don’t know if you’re going to survive, you will make it to the next hour, let alone the next day, because the grief and the sorrow is so oppressing,” he said. “You swallow up these families… love one another because it’s all about love.”

Kasich made a reference to the late 1800s when the town of Chardon burned to the ground.

“Chardon rose from the ashes then, we will do it again. The sun will rise again,” he said. “Tonight, we all live in Chardon.”

The crowd then said the Lord’s Prayer together, and the Reverend thanked the crowd for coming, as well as speakers and the school. He told the community to once again open their hearts and minds to God, and he prayed with them.

Two paper lanterns were then released in the sky, and men exited the church playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes as people began to leave.

Brianne Malone, a senior psychology major, had a cousin at Chardon on the day of the shootings.

“This is a terrible tragedy, and it’s amazing how much these people have come together, and I think it shows how strong the community is,” she said. “People need to remember to be there for each other and love one another.”

She said the ceremony was moving and showed the support in the community.

Chase Nighswonger, who attended Chardon last year, was friends with two of the victims. He struggled for words to describe his feelings about the shootings.

“[The shooter] could have dealt with [his problems] a different way instead of harming others that didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I kind of wish he would have talked to someone about it instead of taking the situation in his own hands.”

He said he was impressed with the amount of people that came to support the families.

“It’s really nice,” he said. “I respect it.”

Families gathered in the church cafeteria after the ceremony, and students stood together exchanging hugs and tears.

“Tonight is about remembering those we have lost,” Bergant said. “Let’s mourn together, and I hope sincerely we all pray together, as we begin this process of healing our school family and our school community.”

“Again we will be proud to be Hilltoppers,” Fetchik said.

Contact Caitlyn Callahan at [email protected]