By THOMAS J. SHEERAN
One day after a teen gunman pleaded guilty in the deadly school shooting, students marked the one-year anniversary Wednesday with hugs, supportive messages and a somber march through town.
The march by Chardon High School students, walk-ing arm-in-arm in the damp cold from the school to the town square, was an emotional highlight during the day’s commemoration.
Photos of the three slain students were displayed, onlookers applauded marchers and firefighters hung a large American flag from an aerial ladder.
The march ended at the courthouse where the shooter, T.J. Lane, 18, had pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges. Lane could face life in prison at his sentencing March 19.
The observance honored Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, who were killed in the Feb. 27, 2012, rampage. Three others were injured.
Students arriving for classes passed an outdoor school sign with the names of the victims and the message: “2-27 A Day of Remembrance.” Across the street, a heart-shaped sign in the school colors of red and black had the message: “One Heartbeat.”
In Columbus, the Ohio House observed a moment of silence. Rep. John Patterson, who represents Chardon, said he planned to introduce a bill to designate highways in the names of the three victims.
Patterson told his colleagues that they couldn’t control tragedies or fully prevent them. And the Jefferson Democrat encouraged parents to tell their children they love them.
The anniversary of the student deaths marks another year of mass shootings around the country — 12 people gunned down at a Colorado movie theater; six killed at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; and 26 Connecticut first-graders and educators slain in Newtown during the Christmas season.
The march in Chardon rekindled memories of the walk taken along the same route by grieving students as they returned to classes three days after the shooting.
A senior student leader, Jessica Mysyk, said the past year has been a time of emotional healing.
“It was hard to even imagine setting foot back into the building where such a tragedy occurred,” she told classmates gathered in the square.
Another senior leader, Will Porter, said nothing satisfactorily explains the violent attack.
“There are no explanations I can give that can help any of us understand,” he said.
The day’s activities in Chardon highlighted the anniversary but served to keep students busy with projects including writing messages of support, artwork, memorial wreaths and making security blankets for future victims of tragedies.
Rachel Loder, 16, who was a sophomore at the time of the Chardon shootings, received such a security blanket and cried and embraced it at difficult times during the past year, her father George Loder said.
“There have been many tears throughout the year,” he said.
Loder said his daughter and her classmates have reciprocated by meeting weekly to make blankets, including more than 150 delivered to Newtown.
Counselors and therapists and about a dozen students from Virginia Tech, where a 2007 massacre left the gunman and 32 students and faculty dead, were available throughout the day to meet with students, Chardon principal Andy Fetchik said.
The Virginia Tech students have visited Chardon more than a half dozen times over the past year to promote healing, said Fetchik, wearing a lapel ribbon in the school’s red and black colors.
“That’s what our kids have been trying to do as they work with that group, is to send that message that one small act of kindness can go a long way,” Fetchik said.
Prosecutors say Lane took a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to the school and fired 10 shots at students in the high school cafeteria. Lane was there waiting for a bus to an alternative school he attended.
Lane pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault. Charged as an adult, Lane cannot get the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the crimes.