CHARDON, Ohio (Reuters) - An Ohio teenager pleaded guilty on Tuesday to killing three students and wounding three others in a February 2012 shooting rampage at a high school in Chardon, a small town east of Cleveland.
T.J. Lane, now 18, entered his guilty plea in Geauga County court one day before the first anniversary of the attack in the high school cafeteria. Lane had previously pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
“I‘m glad this is over,” said Bob Parmertor, father of 16-year-old Daniel Parmertor, one of Lane’s victims.
When asked how he was dealing with his son’s death after a year, Parmertor said, “On the outside you can’t tell, but on the inside we are ripped apart.”
Other family members of victims filled the courtroom.
Lane pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted murder and one count of felonious assault. The killings were committed when Lane was 17, making him ineligible for the death penalty; he faces a potential sentence of life in prison.
The three students killed in shooting were Demetrius Hewlin, 16; Russell King Jr., 17; and Daniel Parmertor. Lane’s guilty pleas for attempted murder were for the shooting of Nick Walczak, 18, who was paralyzed from the waist down, and Nate Mueller. He also pleaded guilty to felonious assault of Joy Rickers, who also was wounded.
Lane, who appeared in court with a closely shaved head and in a dark-green button-down shirt, made eye contact with Geauga County Judge David Fuhry as the judge explained his rights.
Prosecutors have said that Lane confessed shortly after his arrest to bringing a .22-caliber handgun to school and firing 10 rounds randomly at students in the cafeteria.
A recent court-ordered evaluation deemed Lane competent to stand trial. His attorneys previously told the court he suffers from migraines and auditory and visual hallucinations.
Lane was to have been tried as an adult for the shootings. The trial was postponed indefinitely in January after both sides requested more time to prepare for new evidence in the case.
Ian Friedman, Lane’s lead defense attorney, told reporters that he didn’t know the motivation for Lane’s plea. He also did not know if Lane will speak on his own behalf at the March 19 sentencing or explain his motivation in the shootings.
Geauga County prosecuting attorney James Flaiz told reporters that the victims’ families and the surviving victims were in support of the guilty plea. The plea “hopefully will give closure to the families, the victims, and the community and allow all of us to move forward,” Flaiz said.
The attack was one of a series of high-profile mass shootings in 2012 that included the massacre of 20 school children and six adults in December in Newtown, Connecticut.
That tragedy sparked national outrage and proposed gun control legislation in Washington.
Chardon High School plans a day of service to mark Wednesday’s anniversary of the shootings. Students are making blankets for children who have experienced trauma and collars for service dogs.
Chardon residents have been invited to wear red and black, the school’s colors, in memory of the tragedy, and a memorial walk, candle-light vigil and concert are scheduled in remembrance of the victims.
More than $952,000 has been contributed to a special fund to help families and students affected by the tragedy. The fund has helped trauma counselors in the school and pay for wheelchair modifications in Walczak’s home.
Reporting By Kim Palmer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Leslie Adler