CHARDON, Ohio (Reuters) - Family, friends, schoolmates and neighbors gather Thursday for the final funeral for victims of a high school shooting rampage that killed three students and left a small Ohio town torn by damage that could take months or years to heal.
In the days since the February 27 attack at Chardon High School, residents have held vigils, built memorials at the town square and school, and hung red and black ribbons on nearly every vertical surface in the town east of Cleveland.
A fund set up after the shootings has swelled to some $350,000 through donations, the sale of stickers emblazoned with “2-27-12,” a recording of a vigil held February 28 and other fundraising.
The grieving has just begun, experts said.
“It can take five years before people get over the shock and trauma of the event and even begin to grieve,” said Ann Bauer, an Ohio crisis response team member.
Bauer counseled residents in Jonesboro, Arkansas, after four girls and a teacher were killed and 10 others wounded in a shooting rampage outside a middle school in 1998.
In this case, prosecutors have accused T.J. Lane, 17, of firing on students at Chardon High School, killing Russell King, 17, Daniel Parmertor, 16, and Demetrius Hewlin, 16.
Nick Walczak, 17, who was listed in serious condition after the shooting, has been transferred to a rehabilitation center. An 18-year-old female student was treated and released.
King’s funeral on Thursday could draw hundreds of mourners including students from nearby communities, as did those of Parmertor on Saturday and Hewlin on Tuesday.
For most people, symptoms will last a few days or weeks, said Melissa Brymer, director of terrorism and disaster programs at the UCLA-Duke National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.
Classes resumed at Chardon four days after the shooting, providing a quick return to a routine that could aid recovery and help identify people who need more help, she said.
“I am not going to know which kids are at risk if everyone is at home,” Brymer said.
One student, whose father is a grief counselor, said he did not really feel the weight of the grief days after the shooting.
“My dad said it could take four to six months to really sink in,” the student said.
Attackers in high profile U.S. school shooting rampages over the past 15 years often have killed themselves, sparing the wounded and witnesses from reliving the trauma but denying them an opportunity to confront their assailants in court.
“I have had quite a few who have wanted their voice heard, who have wanted to express ... and it has been very, very helpful for them,” Brymer said.
Attackers killed themselves after rampages at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, where two students killed 13 people, and at Virginia Tech University in 2007 where a student killed 32 people in the worst single school shooting in U.S. history.
The Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres led to national changes in how schools respond to threats and counsel survivors.
In Chardon, Lane was arrested soon after the shooting and told a deputy he fired on students at random, prosecutors said.
Lane was charged as a juvenile with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of felonious assault. A hearing was set for April 3 to determine if he should be tried as an adult, in which case he could face up to life in prison without parole.
Brymer said people involved directly in the case could see increased sleep problems, anxiety and difficulty focusing around court dates, but reactions would differ.
In Jonesboro, residents lashed out in frustration because the shooters, aged 11 and 13, could be held only until they reached age 21 under Arkansas law, said Bauer, now a Cleveland State University professor focused on victim support.
The shooters were released in 2005 and 2007 respectively after serving the maximum allowed. Potential sentences were lengthened later in response to those results.
The circumstances are different in Chardon and the community reaction to the court case likely will be different, Bauer said. Beyond the case, residents face a fundamental loss, she said.
“The school and the community had a story about what kind of a school and what kind of a community they were and now that has been changed,” Bauer said. “The story of that school is forever changed.”
Additional reporting by David Bailey