Once again we have witnessed another catastrophic school shooting. This one took place at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio. The news reported that TJ Lane walked into the school, pulled out a gun and fired 10 rounds into a table of five students, killing three. He has been arrested and is awaiting the next legal steps: incarceration for the majority of his life if not his entire life. How many individuals were traumatized by the act of one student?
Questions are difficult to answer when a tragedy occurs
Our hearts go out to the families who lost their children. It has to be devastating, and I can’t imagine the grief, loss and pain they feel. I am hopeful they will have a community of support: friends, family members and others who know and care for them. Theirs will be a process of recovery similar to what I have written about in my trauma posts.
I am sure people in Chardon are asking a host of questions. The loss of young students prompts us all to consider seriously how we might have prevented this tragedy. But there are always very difficult questions to answer at times like this.
Were there warning signs?
I also want to look at the warning signs in TJ’s life, not because I want to blame anyone, but so that we may learn some of the predictable signs of a student who may really be in trouble. Even the prosecutor said this is a “sick kid.” He had already been placed in an alternative school where there was a therapeutic community sensitive to his issues and behaviors.
As we have learned from our journey through trauma, our question should not be “What is wrong with him?” but rather “What happened to him?”
I read in one of the reports that his father had been arrested for abusing his mother. I also read that he had written some compelling although brief poetry which clearly depicted some very depressive and destructive emotions. Yet, he still reached such a desperate point in is own private world that he was urged for some unknown reason to assault other students with a gun. How desperate must he have been to commit such an act? How tragic for this whole community that it happened.
Listen and be aware and attuned for red flags
I think it should remind us all how important it is to listen and observe our students, to be alert for red flags. TJ seemed to be a quiet and compliant young child. However, I wonder what he witnessed in his home as he grew and how what he experienced may have impacted him. Moreover, did he ever have a chance to process the situations he was victim to with any one. Due to our economic climate, most states have cut services to valuable programs who are designed to help students like TJ. I find this a dangerous set of risks.
Become trauma-informed and help prevent tragedies like this
Further, we need to become trauma-informed as we evaluate students like TJ. What part of his brain was he living in and why? I am quite sure he was in great emotinal pain, which led to the tragic consequence.
Events like Chardon continue to remind us all of the need to be vigilant, to make sure our schools, homes and communities have raised awareness about trauma and its impact on families. It is important that children who are experiencing trauma get the help they need so they do not become isolated or reach irrational conclusions, act upon those thoughts, and possibly end lives.
We all need trauma lenses for children and adults
I do not want to criticize or blame anyone from Chardon High School; however, being in my field for almost three decades, I know that there are many students like TJ Lane. It is my hope that a caring adult, youth worker, relative or friend will spend some time with these types of vulnerable students, listen and facilitate help for them. Their efforts may prevent an awful incident like this from occurring in your community.
I have continued and new respect for the outpouring of love and commitment of the staff of Lakeside Educational Network that provides support to 1500 students per year.
I also appreciate the work of Lake Valley Alternative School, whose staff and students must also be struggling with the reality thrust upon them by a student within their own community. We must hold them up in our prayers as they heal and recover from these traumatic events. Let us be diligent to widen our trauma lenses so we can be equipped to help our children overcome such tragedies.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network