Always a Chardon Hilltopper: Healing After Heartbreak in my Hometown.

If it had been February 27, 2008, I would have been speeding into that high school parking lot with about two minutes until the tardy bell rang.

It would have been in the midst of softball season, and I would have come bustling through those side doors of the school like any other Monday, carrying a giant bag of practice clothes, my bat bag and book bag.

I would have sprinted to the cafeteria with all my stuff, a race between sneaking into my study hall seat unnoticed and being spotted by the teacher taking attendance. My friends sat in the same spot everyday, they would have laughed at me trying to sneak in to avoid being marked late. It would have been like any other day at Chardon High School.

From where I sat my senior year, I would have been facing that cafeteria door. I would have seen the gunman, I would have seen the horror, I would have seen death.

But that was February 27, 2008… not February 27, 2012.

Chardon High School was hit with tragedy on Feb. 27, 2012, as a gunman targeted a table of kids in the school cafeteria. The gunman killed three and wounded two, and was later chased out of the building by a football coach and picked up by police a few roads over from the school. (More information can be found here.)

I said goodbye to Chardon High School in 2008 when I graduated on May 30 and went on to become a freshman at Kent State University. Never once in that high school did I feel unsafe. Not once did I feel threatened. Not once did I question my classmate’s intentions. Not once have I questioned anyone in Chardon. We are good people. Words cannot describe my confusion…Why? Why not another school? Why our tiny little town?

I keep replaying standing at my locker my senior year, I would have been able to look down the steps and see the gunmen walk through the front door. I keep replaying sitting in my first period study hall my senior year in that cafeteria facing that same door the gunman walked through.

I keep replaying all the hours spent in the Chardon gym with practices and games. I replay sitting on the front entrance steps waiting for the bus with my teammates. I keep replaying laughing with my friends between classes in the halls. I keep replaying kissing my high school boyfriend in that front hallway. I remember feeling the buzz and excitement of prom and graduation and high school parties when parents went out of town. That’s what you’re supposed to remember, that’s what you’re supposed to feel. That’s what high school is supposed to be like.

And that gunman took that away from all the current students at Chardon.

I have so many precious memories of high school. It was a time of not knowing what else is out there in the big world, a time of finding out who you are and who you’re friends are… you are so innocent and you’re supposed to be… and that gunman took that away from those kids.

It breaks my heart to think of those kids in that school. It leaves a feeling so tight and uncomfortable in my chest I feel like I can’t breathe. I think of the teachers, who would do anything for those kids. I have such strong memories of the great teachers at Chardon. I have such great memories of the good people in Chardon.

Our small hick-town is not the town it was before.

It’s not fair. Those kids were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing and suddenly they were hit with this. Your high school years, especially your senior year, is supposed to be so incredible and so much fun… and for those seniors, that gunman ruined it.

I am just so angry.

I hold my high school memories so dear to my heart and I feel like everyone who is from Chardon understands that. I couldn’t imagine a better high school experience or a better town to grow up in. And to three kids, those memories and that life in Chardon were cut way too short.

These students had no idea what real life was even like. They had no idea that their college years would be even better then they their high school years were.

I just wish this didn’t happen. I felt disgusted seeing The Daily Kent Stater running a giant front-page paper on Chardon. It shouldn’t be this way, is what I kept thinking.

People aren’t supposed to know where Chardon is.This isn’t supposed to happen to a place like this…

Tuesday night as I drove into Chardon for the vigil, I had instant tears start running down my face as I saw red bows tied around the trees on either side of the road leading up to the square. My heart ached as I saw all the houses with flag poles at half mast. And the picture of looking back behind me during the vigil and seeing hundreds of people holding candles standing on the grounds of St. Mary’s church will forever be seared into my memory.

This tragedy caused so much pain, anger and sadness in my community. Sometimes I still can’t even wrap my head, or my heart around it.

But I have seen strength come out of this. SO much strength from the people of the community. SO much strength from people of surrounding communities and from around the world. And to a little hometown like Chardon, that’s what it’s all about.

The students and families of the students remain in my heart. My prayers ask for them to heal and that they can continue being the kids they are supposed to be right now. My thanks goes to all of the Chardon community and everything everyone has done to help those hurting there.

Like Governor Kasich said during the vigil on Tuesday night, Chardon burnt down in 1868, but it rebuilt itself one year later. We will rebuild our community again.

I have never been so proud and so honored to call Chardon my home and Chardon High School not only my Alma Mater, but a place that helped shape me into the person I am today.

This amazing video is of the students returning to Chardon High School. Notice the superintendent hugging the kids and the teachers and members of the community clapping and cheering them in as they walked through the doors for the first time since the shooting. Unreal how amazing it is.

One heart beat. Chardon, Ohio.

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