CHARDON, Ohio (Reuters) - A 17-year-old student suspected of a shooting rampage at an Ohio high school that killed three teenagers and wounded two others has confessed to opening fire on students he chose at random, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The student, identified by authorities as T.J. Lane, appeared in Geauga County, Ohio Juvenile Court, where he was ordered detained following Monday’s shooting at Chardon High School.
Lane has confessed to police to taking a knife and a .22-caliber pistol into the high school cafeteria and firing 10 rounds at randomly selected students, prosecutors said.
As the shocked residents of the town 35 miles east of Cleveland asked how it could have happened, two more students were pronounced dead from wounds suffered when Lane opened fire.
Daniel Parmertor, 16, was pronounced dead on Monday, and Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King Jr., 17, on Tuesday, the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner’s office said.
One student remained hospitalized and another has been released. At the high school, students spent the day huddling, talking and placing red ribbons around the grounds.
An estimated 5,000 people attended a candlelight vigil in frigid temperatures on Tuesday evening to remember the victims. Some people walked a mile to attend and others parked at the Walmart where helicopters had transported the wounded to area hospitals a day earlier.
The crowd at a Chardon church which holds 900 in the main chapel spilled out onto the lawn where hundreds of people stood in the cold with candles to hear the school superintendant, principal and Ohio Governor John Kasich speak. The largest applause was reserved for three teachers who are credited with helping to prevent the gunman from shooting more students.
Chardon residents Deena and Jim Yoger attended the vigil with their four children and said their freshman son would have been in the cafeteria when the shooting began but was working on an Eagle Scout project at another school.
“I went to Walmart today and it was so quiet — just a bunch of parents hugging each other,” Deena Yoger said.
In his court appearance, Lane was ordered held in detention pending the filing of formal charges. A judge gave prosecutors until March 1 to file charges.
At 17 years old, Lane will be bound over for trial as an adult if probable cause is found, Geauga County Prosecuting Attorney David Joyce said.
The death toll is the worst at a high school since a truck driver killed five schoolgirls and wounded six in October 2006 at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. Including universities, it was the worst school rampage since a University of Alabama professor shot three colleagues and wounded three two years ago.
The families of King and Hewlin donated their organs and released statements Tuesday through MetroHealth Medical Center
“Demetrius was a happy young man who loved life and his family and friends,” the Hewlin family said. “We will miss him very much but we are proud that he will be able to help others through organ donation,” it said.
Lane’s family said they were in shock over the events and asked for privacy.
“The family wanted me to convey to the citizens of Geauga County and Northeastern Ohio that the family is devastated by this most recent event,” the Lane family’s lawyer Bob Farinacci told local WKYC news prior to Tuesday’s hearing.
“This is something that could never have been predicted. T.J.’s family has asked for some privacy while they try to understand how such a tragedy could have occurred and while they mourn this terrible loss for their community.”
Farinacci represented Lane at the detention hearing, which was attended by Lane’s grandfather and two of his aunts.
The school district was closed on Tuesday and will not reopen fully for classes until Friday.
Chardon Police Chief Tim McKenna did not disclose a motive on Tuesday for the shooting, which happened on Monday morning while students were studying and eating breakfast.
“As was stated earlier in court today, he chose his victims at random,” Prosecutor Joyce said. “This is not about bullying, this is not about drugs, this is someone who is not well.”
The judge ordered restrictions Tuesday on what prosecutors and defense attorneys could disclose publicly in the case.
Lane’s attorney Farinacci has described him as a “good kid” who had never been in trouble and had impressive grades.
“He’s a sophomore. He’s been doubling up on his classes with the intent of graduating this May. He pretty much sticks to himself but does have some friends and has never been in trouble over anything that we know about,” Farinacci said.
Chardon, the seat of Geauga county, is a semi-rural, affluent town about 35 miles from Cleveland with a population of about 5,000, according to the U.S. Census.
The deadliest school shooting in the United States was a 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead. The deadliest high school shooting claimed 12 students and a teacher in 1999 at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Reporting by Kim Palmer, Dan Burns, Andrew Stern, James B. Kelleher and David Bailey; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Paul Thomasch and Greg McCune