Reflections on Chardon, Ohio 2-27-2012

Many will soon forget the significance of that date, not because they are uncaring or unsympathetic but simply because life does go on.  For those of us touched by this tragedy because we live in Chardon, have children in the school or know the families who lost their loved ones, we will always remember that Monday morning in February.

That Monday morning arrived in typical fashion.  It was the end of the weekend and the rush was on to get the kids out of bed, get breakfast ready and make lunches.  Our teenager in one direction and our younger two in another, a typical household and the hustle and bustle of a new week; just another Monday morning in Chardon.

As I hurried my children to brush their teeth and get their things ready to be at the bus stop on time, the phone rang.  I knew it was my mother but this time she had a strange question.  She asked if I knew anything about the shooting at Chardon High School.  With that, she told me that my sister could not get in touch with my niece, Victoria, a senior at the school.  Not fully comprehending what was being asked because in my mind nothing ever happens in Chardon, I told her not to worry and that I was sure it was nothing, probably just some kind of accident.  It couldn’t be serious.  I smiled as I thought how my mother was surely mistaken and that she must have gotten the story wrong.

Soon, I received another call.  This time it was my wife calling from work asking if I had heard about the shooting.   I told her it was probably nothing as I was convinced that it must have been an accident.  I hoped that no one was hurt.  She asked about our boys and I told her that I was putting them on the bus when it came.  She was shocked at my response and I was shocked at hers.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine that anything terrible had happened.  I would not accept her concern because I didn’t think it could be that serious.  No one could have prepared us for the news that soon permeated the airways around our small town.   Our bus never arrived to pick up the boys that morning.

Who could have imagined that as the buses began gathering up our children as part of their Monday morning ritual, that the quiet of that morning had already been shattered by the retort of a .22.

With disbelief, I joined thousands of other Chardon residents as we watched the tragic events unfold and the reality of that terrible morning began to change us forever.  Social media networks were getting us the information we needed about our children and other children we knew.  It seemed unreal, Chardon High School seen from the air, police everywhere, a SWAT team, and neighbors and students with expressions of fear and shock as they awaited news.  The overwhelming feeling of helplessness came upon us as the events unfolded and we waited to find out if ours were ok.  Seeking information, we soon heard there were two gunmen at-large and we learned that several students had been shot.  It wasn’t long before we found out that a lone gunman was responsible, that he was in custody and we knew it wasn’t an accident.  It wasn’t long before we learned the horrible reality of 2-27-12.

The news was reporting one dead and four injured, two at Metro and two at Hillcrest.  We prayed, at first selfishly for our own, and then for all the families.  We cried out please God not mine.  Kids start spreading the word using their cellphones and we soon learn the extent of the tragedy.  It wasn’t long before the names of the victims were spreading.  With each name I would make the connection in my mind of how I am linked in some way to each and every one of them.   Some of the children and their families belong to St. Mary’s Parish and I have seen them at Sunday morning mass.  One family lives in my neighborhood, just down the street across from my cousin, Mike.   One of the children is a neighbor of our foreman at All Souls Cemetery.  Another is a good friend of someone I know well and another, a cousin of someone I know through work.   How can this be?  How could God let this happen?

Our prayers intensified as we struggled with the news that two more of our precious children had succumbed to their injuries.  We scream out at God in anger because we cannot accept that this has happened.  How could You let this happen to our children?  Our anger grows until we watch a mother, with intense love for her son, forgive.  We are reminded of our faith and we are comforted by the knowledge that our children have been embraced by our Lord and Savior.

Our small community learns that it is ok to be angry at God.  He accepts our anger and He acknowledges our pain.  We blame Him for taking our children and He hopes that someday we will turn to Him for comfort.  We forget when we sit in church and gaze upon the crucified Christ that our Savior was the Son sent to save the world and was brutally tortured and nailed to a cross until His earthly body expired.  It is for us now a symbol of our faith but we must truly understand that it represents the pain of a horrible death that our Lord accepted for us to be saved.  When our children are injured or taken from us through the intentional act of another, we can make no sense of their tragic deaths.  We must accept that God did not decide on the day of the shooting that those families would suffer.  It is through our faith that we know God’s promise, that those who grieve are blessed and will receive comfort.

As an employee of the Catholic Cemeteries Association, I am so grateful for the staff at All Souls Cemetery in Chardon.  Their support of the families who lost their children was without measure.  Every employee of the Catholic Cemeteries Association deals with tragedy daily and because they are motivated by our ministry, they have the strength to help our families through the most difficult time of their lives.  Our mission is always to comfort the grieving and guide them as best we can through the difficulties of an impossible situation.  Our families expect more of us because we are their Catholic Cemeteries Association.

Our prayers are with all the families that will forever remember that Monday morning in February and especially those who lost loved ones.

Andrej Lah

Director, Catholic Cemeteries Association

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