I grew up outside of Cleveland and still have dear friends in Geauga County, where the Chardon schools are located. Chardon is not, as frequently reported, a “suburb” of Cleveland, but a small rural town of its own. It’s located in beautiful Ohio country where you still pass Amish buggies on the road. And it’s pronounced Shar-don, not Char – don.
Of course, this lovely little town will now be forever linked with the tragic shootings that occurred last week when a teenaged boy walked into the school cafeteria and randomly shot and killed three classmates, wounding two others. I suppose the name of the town will always evoke that tragedy, but my hope is that the place will also be known for the way in which the school and town handled the situation – with competence, grace, support, and compassion.
In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, superintendent Joseph Bergant II said, “Chardon isn’t any place; it’s every place.” If something like this could happen in rural Chardon, it could indeed happen anywhere. But a few days later, noting the outpouring of support from the community and the surrounding communities, the superintendent added, “In our community; you’re never alone … not here in Chardon. You need only to ask for help.”
You’ve seen all the pictures and heard all the details of the tragedy. How kids from rival schools wore Chardon t-shirts and applauded when the Chardon kids returned to school after only a few days. How the coach who chased the shooter out of the cafeteria insisted he’s no hero, just a regular guy. How the mother of one of the kids who died says that she has forgiven the shooter, noting that she wants to keep in her heart the love of her son, not the hatred of his killer. How the faculty and staff were well trained for a situation they hoped would never happen and carried out their jobs effectively and efficiently. How the superintendent calmly and compassionately handled the media.
As many people have already noted, you send your kids to school in the morning and expect them to come back in the late afternoon, backpacks full of books and homework, looking for something to eat, maybe texting with friends. Yes, in a very real sense, Chardon could have been any place, and a stone rolls across every parent’s heart when a tragedy like this happens. But the way in which the school and community have responded to the tragedy deserves our admiration and our respect.