When the Unthinkable Happens: A Parent's Reflection on the Chardon Shootings

How does a parent wrap her mind around a reality no one wants to face?


On Feb. 27, the unthinkable happened.

I need to rephrase that.

What should be unthinkable happened.

But who has not confronted: What if?

Parents, students, teachers, school employees, administrators ... shudder at unfathomable thoughts.

When I was a child, I hated tornado drills. I tried not to think about my fear. Who could control nature?

What goes through our children’s minds? It is unconscionable that they should have to drill for shootings; yet they must. Know what to do. Push down the fear. Pray it never happens. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t. It’s unthinkable.

It happened.

Our hearts break for the Chardon victims and their families.

Our anger burns against the one who committed this crime and against evil circumstances and thoughts that lead to atrocities.

We are unsettled and outraged and fearful (of copycats).

We are reminded of just how fragile life is.

Monday morning, as I was pulling into the parking lot to sub at my son’s school, I was talking about Glass by Thompson Square. (We often bond over music). My son hadn’t heard it, so I was sharing lyrics:

We may shine, we may shatter,

We may be picking up the pieces here on after

We are fragile, we are human,

We are shaped the light we let through us.

But we break fast,

‘Cause we are glass.

I said I love the extended metaphor the song creates.

“Ever the English teacher,” he laughed.

I know this is a love song, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone on that level. But to me, the song speaks of a greater truth: the frailty of the human condition. It’s not just our spirits that are easily shattered. Our very lives could be taken from us in a single moment. Too soon. Against God’s perfect will.

Looking back, that conversation feels prophetic.

Only a few hours later, a concerned student would come to me asking: “Mrs. Noble, do you know anything about a shooting at Chardon High School?”

I would answer with a blank stare.

“I heard one student was killed and several others injured,” he would say.

“Oh, Dear Lord ...” I would whisper, an utterance of shock and despair and prayer, wrapped into the only three words that would come.

Push it down. Don’t think on it. Go on with learning.  

Before I had my children, I taught high school, pre-Columbine. My first year home, when tragedy struck, I remember selfishly thinking, “I’m thankful I’m not in school.”

Yet my children would go. Did I think the world would change?

After learning of the Chardon tragedy, I had the fleeting thought: Do I really want to be here? Then: Would you have your children here and wish yourself away?

How does one wrap her mind around the thought that she could be next? Worse, that it could be her child whose life is taken?

How did the parents of Daniel Parmertor, Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King, Jr. digest the reality that their son’s lives were taken?

How is Holly Walczak able to face what she described as “a terrible
movie that you’re stuck in?" How does a parent contend with the fear of a son’s paralysis combined with guilt of being the one whose child survived?

Did Joy Rickers’ family experience similar feelings?

How is Phyllis Ferguson able to “give glory to God” and express "forgiveness?" For the sake of not allowing her son’s memory to be trumped by hatred.

John Eldredge once said: When God created the world, He declared
it good. He did not declare it safe.

The wilderness is beautiful but holds within its beauty elements of danger. We cannot partake of the adventure of living without the risk of dying.

If we allow ourselves to dwell on each day’s potential for death, we will never leave home. We will die there, in crippled seclusion.

While I can accept danger in the natural world, my mind screams: God never intended for humans to fear one another! His desire was for us to be like Him.

To that end, He gave us free will. Choice is ours.

But we are not God. We are more like ... glass.

Our hearts can be drilled, stilled by a single bullet. Our minds can be shattered by a memory. Our spirits can be broken by just one word or action. 

And what of the one who chooses to destroy? He, too, is glass.

There is no excuse for killing. Not drug use nor being bullied nor having a rough childhood (unproven speculations).

I will not defend a killer.

Yet I am heartbroken for this young man. And for his family.

T.J. Lane broke. Who knows where the crack originated, but it was there, working its way through his brain until it shattered into a thousand pieces: the pull of a trigger. 

Why, T.J.? Why did you act on those evil thoughts? What impacted your spirit so deeply? You have taken lives, devastated families. You have destroyed your own life, too.

The day of the shootings, I wanted to hug my kids and never let go. I held my 15-year-old-son’s hand as I drove him to baseball practice. The next morning, I asked him about school drills for, God forbid — the unthinkable. He explained what they’ve practiced. I checked with the office to be sure I knew protocol as a substitute teacher.

This is no tornado. Definitely not an act of God. Shouldn’t there be some way to get such a thing under control? How can we ever be truly prepared for something so unnatural?

God did not create robots. He made people, of flesh and blood.

What is meant to shine sometimes shatters, because He gave us — His
fragile creatures (meant to be the crown-jewel of His creation) — the gift of

Such a gift is not safe, I know, but I have to believe that it is GOOD.

Even when the unthinkable happens, and we must find a way to pick up the pieces.

Cinta Perez Costero March 08, 2012 at 02:46 AM
great article:)
Preston Patterrson March 08, 2012 at 02:47 AM
very good.
Miranda Diesz March 08, 2012 at 03:05 AM
This is written so well! I can see how a situation like this could be a struggle to write about. However, I agreed with everything you had to say. At first I couldn't imagine how the parents felt about what happened to their children, but now I feel a portion of their pain. The entire situation is so sad, and I wish them the best.
Emily Frase March 08, 2012 at 03:26 AM
I thought was a very good article! Ha and you were worried it would be bad at arabica. I think it is so true when you say killing is no excuse. And you notice that the families of those who died are always the first to forgive. I think it would be nearly impossible to forgive someone for something like that. I thought it was great that you used that song to make a point. We will continue prayer for those who are hurt. Great atricle!
Donna J. Noble March 08, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Thanks, Emily. It was good to see you that night and to have a little break from my labors. This was a tough one to write, and yes, I agree...we need to be diligent in praying for our nation's schools, especially Chardon right now.
Donna J. Noble March 08, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Thank you for reading and responding, Alison.
Donna J. Noble March 08, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Thanks, Miranda. I was thinking about how little control the parents had over the situation that day. They had no choice but to put their trust in the leaders of the school system and in God for the outcome. How incredibly helpless they must have felt. We parents often want to control things about our children's lives; it's because we love deeply, but sometimes we have no choice but to let go, wait, and pray. I hope some day you will be a parent, because though it's scary business, it's one of the greatest blessings this life affords!
Kristen Korner March 08, 2012 at 08:53 PM
I really enjoyed reading this! It makes you truely wonder about life and how fast it can be taken! After I heard about the Chardon High School shootings, it made me wonder if there are kids in our school who would ever be able to do some thing so evil like that. It’s not just our spirits that are easily shattered. "Our very lives could be taken from us in a single moment. Too soon. Against God’s perfect will." I love this because it is so true, but no one ever thinks about it. You are a really good writer and your piece was very interesting to read!
Nick Gingobells March 08, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Good job Mrs.Noble. Very well written. - Nick Gingo
Dillian Michael Davis March 09, 2012 at 01:10 AM
This article is well written! I also liked how you incorporated the song, "Glass" by Thompson Square. You are such a well developed writer and I am looking forward in seeing more of your work! :)
Andrea Noall March 09, 2012 at 01:23 AM
This is a very good article Mrs.Noble! I was drawn in from the moment it started. I have read a couple articles on the Chardon shootings, but none really brought in the emotional aspect of the event.. I hadn't read an article in which the author truly talks about "the unthinkable" happening to people in OUR lives. It is true when you say that one would ever dream of it happening them. Andrea Noall
Logan Bonecutter March 09, 2012 at 01:39 AM
You are a very good writer Mrs. Noble! The lyrics of that song tie in so well with the tragedy. I wondered the same thing about the survivors parents about how they feel about the situation. I wonder if they feel some what guilty that it was there child that survived through what happened. I feel much sympathy for the parents of the boys who died, I can't even imagine what they must be going through. It is sad that their lives were taken so fast. Does anyone know why T.J. Lane acted like this? Very well written! I loved it :) -Logan Bonecutter
Kyle Crites March 09, 2012 at 03:28 AM
This was very well written with excellent word usage. Your idea on informing a student on what he/she should do in such a situation like Chardon should be enforced by all school for the safety of their students. The way you tied together the song with this horrific event was genius. You really picked relevant quotes such as John Eldrage's to help you reader understand the point. No one will ever know what truly was going on in T.J's head but we surely can learn from it. -Kyle Crites
Jillian Baker March 09, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Such a great writing piece, really kept me interested :)
Kyle Ondecker March 09, 2012 at 12:52 PM
Good job! This is well thought out. - Kyle Ondecker
Jorge Morales March 09, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Mind blowing, such an amazing article!
Andrew Gratz March 09, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Very powerful artical. It is truly unthinkable, the fact that we do practice tornado drills and fire drills and other applicable drills vital to our safety in emergencies. But the closest we get to practicing what to do in a school shooting is a "lockdown", where we turn the lights off and go in the corner of the room. Unthinkable is the best way to put it. Great artical!- Andrew Gratz
Anatoliy Torchilo March 09, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Life is short and the unthinkable may occur at any moment. The Bible tells us to be ready at any time to meet the Judgment of God. These three victims will stand before the Judgment of God, but so T.J. Lane. Its important to live holy, so taht we might always be ready for the unthinkable if it ever occurs `Anatoliy Torchilo
Haley Boss March 09, 2012 at 02:26 PM
Mrs. Noble, this article is really well written. I like the quotes you used especially the one where you said, "Not an act of God." it definatley is not. But very good job. From, Haley Boss
Shaun Evans March 09, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Great article! It is tough to write about a situation like this and you did a wonderful job. -Shaun Evans
alyssa ross March 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
This is a very inspiring article Mrs. Noble! its hard to take in everything that happpened with the Chardon school shooting but its absolutely amazing that you could take such a tradegy and write such an inspiring piece. Also, everything was confusing with alll the different news and articles so you really made this much easier to understand. Great job once again! *Alyssa Ross
Andrey Legkiy March 09, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Very well written. I enjoyed reading this. This piece gave me alot to think about. Keep up the good work.
Andrey Legkiy March 09, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Very well written. I enjoyed reading this. This piece gave me alot to think about. Keep up the good work.
Andrey Legkiy March 09, 2012 at 04:39 PM
hhmmm okay dude
Maddy Palmieri March 09, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Love this article! I really like how you incorporated you point of view and how it affected you, especially working as a teacher in a school. It also made me realize how i felt when i heard abuot the shooting and how life is such a gift and how fragile it is. Definitely the best article i've read so far, because you gave it character, not just filled with cold hard facts. Great Job! -Maddy Palmieri
Alexa Calcei March 09, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I love love love that you added in the lyrics Glass to this piece it really gives it a good perspective on the situatuion that has happened to innocent people yet again. this experience was very touching and terrrifying to many , and i really think you did such a great job at showing your emotions and it was written just so well , i enjoyed it alot ! good job ! -lexi calcei
Leah Walden March 09, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I have great appreciation and respect towards you because of this article. I loved this. It made me look at this situation a lot different and feel for the people that are being affected by this. I think before I read this I was more in denial that something this tragic couldn't happen to us, but I am more open to realizing now, that anything could happen at any time. Great writing also.
Andy Eaton March 09, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Great article! This piece made me really have to sit down and think and ponder about events like this. It gave me a perspective that made me really wonder what could have possessed a teenage student to commit such a terrible crime against his peers. Could it have been that he was continually bullied or maybe just a random act of violence? I do not think that i will ever really figure it out but if it was that he was bullied it makes you think about the psychological effects it can have on people and how sometimes it can go too far. This event should put into perspective that anything can happen at anytime for any reason and while nobody should have to be prepared for something like this it makes you know that in the world we live in, you have to be ready for anything. Yet again this is a great article that should make anyone sit and have to think on it and take what they can from it. -Andy Eaton
billie greenier October 11, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I think everyone needs to really be educated on the signs of a child being bullied or a children being a bully. If we learn these behaviors and signs hopefully we can save one life, with that being said: Every kid needs to see this video. http://www.youtube.com/watc
jolie montlick October 12, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Please check out my anti-bullying music video "My Song for Taylor Swift" that was just released. It empowers kids to speak up in the face of bullying and shows heartwarming scenes of kids doing the right thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPR_-zDMD8A. In 1 week the video has been seen in 41 states and 20 countries. And please pass it on to others- we want it to to viral and help as many kids as possible. Thank you!! Jolie.


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