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In Chardon, a Preventable Tragedy

Letting depression and bullying go unchecked too often leads to life-shattering results, like what happened Monday in the quiet town in northeast Ohio.

Monday morning, in a sleepy town 30 miles east of Cleveland, 17-year-old Thomas "TJ" Lane opened fire on some of his high school classmates, injuring five. One of the five was fatally wounded. There's an unconfirmed report on a Cleveland news channel that a second victim has also died. Another victim remains in critical condition.

Initially, the reports were that "TJ" had been bullied by the group of students he apparently targeted in his rampage. I heard a news report that said that the alleged gunman confessed to stealing the handgun from his uncle and that he'd been "picked on" and bullied by this group for a long time. Conversely, one of his fellow students offered this insight: "Even though he was quiet, he still had friends," said Tyler Lillash, 16. "He was not bullied." I will add here that in a recent suicide, there were those who admonished that, despite what I'd reported, the victim was not bullied when, in fact, he had been.

What's especially harrowing about this life-changing tragedy is that the warning signs were in place. Reportedly, TJ posted on Twitter the night before that, "I'm bringing a gun to school." And, as a response to that, as a Washington, D.C. news outlet reported, one boy tweeted that he'd probably be one of the first ones to get shot because he'd always been mean to TJ. Lots of unanswered questions. What is known is that there has been a dark side to TJ that has gone unchecked. A look at his facebook account suggested that he, himself, was interested in learning more about clinical depression. I've been saying for a while that it's so vital that we as adults pay attention to what's being said. No one took TJ seriously when he tweeted about bringing a gun to school. No one paid attention to his ominous posts on Facebook or that he was looking to learn more about depression. Now, there's one confirmed death in this unfortunate event and unconfirmed reports of a second. If someone -- ANYONE! -- had paid attention, 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor may still be alive today.

If it's in fact true that Thomas Lane had been bullied, this wouldn't be the first time that the bullied lashed out rather than commit suicide. Just recently, a Florida youth was found not guilty in the murder of a teen who had allegedly been bullying him. In 2001, I followed the story of a young man who had been bullied at his Maryland school. His father moved him to a San Diego suburb to get him away from the torment. But the bullying continued there as well. He took a gun to school and killed two of his bullies. As with Lane, this young man had told someone the day before that he was going to take a gun to school. He wasn't taken seriously. As a result, three young lives were lost: two boys lost their lives, and the shooter will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

If bullying was indeed the driving force behind this, there can be no louder wake-up call. That would clearly indicate we are losing young lives to bullying because of suicides but also when -- in cases like this one, the one in Florida, and the one in the San Diego suburb -- sometimes it is the bully who pays the ultimate price. In either scenario, it's an unthinkable tragedy that can be prevented. 

What can we do to prevent events such as what happened in Ohio today from happening again?:

  • BULLYING MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY! It's a serious issue that is claiming lives at a break-neck pace. NO LONGER is "boys will be boys" or "kids will be kids" acceptable.  
  • Listen to what these young people are saying. Remember: hearing and listening are two completely different functions. In far too many cases, these troubled young people are screaming out at the top of their lungs, like Andy Williams did in San Diego, but no one listens to them. So, to get their troubled voices heard, they act out. The result of that action is rarely good.
  • Pay attention to the mental health of your child or even a troubled young person you may know from your neighborhood or through your own child. I'm no professional, but I would bet that very rarely do events like we witnessed Monday happen out of the blue. There are always warning signs.  We have to pay attention in order to see them.  
  • Understand that bullying and depression can be a disastrous combination. It was that combination that claimed Jamie Hubley's life last year. It was the combination that caused Andy Williams to go on his rampant is the San Diego suburb in 2001. And, according to early reports, odds are that it played a role in Chardon, Ohio.

All of this is so very preventable. What happened in San Diego in March of 2001 didn't have to happen; what happened in Chardon didn't have to happen. Life will never, ever be the same for the people of that small town in northeast Ohio. The young people who witnessed the horrifying act will see it play out in their mind's eye for the rest of their lives. And, as was the case in Santee, California back in 2001, three families have lost their beloved young ones forever. To the people of Chardon, I wish you godspeed in your recovery and healing. To the families of the victims, may you find peace. The world mourns with you.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sharon February 29, 2012 at 03:28 AM
I am absolutely an advovate when it comes to putting a stop to bullying & belittling. I am an advocate for children period! But I think we are automatically assuming (incorrectly) that almost every act we are seeing is a 'product of bullying'...rush to judgement to make killer the victim! Believe this horrific act had nothing to do with this young man being a victim of classmate harassment. If any mutilation of that young boy's self-esteem, self-worth occurred, from the news it has all implications that such may have come from his father (who has quite a criminal history). I think when all the details & facts are presented they will prove such. And the 'real victims' (those three young boys who died & the two other students who were injured...all 5 who have & had so much to offer) were chosen at random. I do stand with you and all others who send their heartfelt condolences to the families of those innocent victims. Thoughts and prayers are with them and with the students who will carry this horrendous day & senseless loss with them for the rest of their lives. OUR children lose their 'innocence' way too early in this 'new, becoming-too-dysfunctional society' of ours.
Sharon February 29, 2012 at 03:43 AM
And we could start a whole new topic, whole new 'can of worms' that would fire up those damn NRA folks. But we are so concerned about getting guns off the street (which we should be). Yet it is also time we got the 'arsenals' OUT OF THE HOMES. According to news reports, this 'angry shooter, was in a home where, if he chose, he could have opened his 'very own gun shop'!! These are not the days of Wyatt Earp and Annie Oakley, folks!
Ron Kemp February 29, 2012 at 05:50 AM
Thanks for your comment. I do agree with you on a couple levels. I spent many hours yesterday poring over all available data, including watching a live news feed from Ohio for two hours, in an effort to get the absolute most accurate information possible be writing this article. From every news outlet, the report was of bullying. There was even one report that he had told the authorities that he'd stole the gun from his uncle and that the kids he shot had been "picking on" him for quite a while. However, even with all of that data, I still didn't commit to bullying being the root of this catastrophe. I mentioned it as a possibility and spoke to that possibility. Today's report of it being "random" runs afoul of what an eyewitness said yesterday during an interview, but I won't speculate. There's still a lot to be learned about this case, I'm sure. I will say, however, that just because an "official" states publicly that it wasn't one thing or another, that's not always the reality. I recently did a story about a teen suicide where bullying was the cause. Many people, including students from his school, responded telling me that he hadn't been bullied. Local law enforcement went on record saying that. However, I had been in direct contact with someone from his family and knew factually that it was due to bullying. My thought about yesterday’s event is that unchecked depression was at the root. Time will tell. Whatever the cause, it's a tremendous tragedy.

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