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Connie Schultz
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Resist the Chardon Killer's Taunts


On Tuesday, a year after he murdered three Chardon High School students and injured three others, 18-year-old T.J. Lane walked into his sentencing hearing and made it virtually impossible for most of us to summon even a shred of sympathy for his condemned soul.

But summon we must. If we are good people — and most of us want to believe we are — we are called to dig deeper for compassion that eludes us, lest our own souls wither.

Bear with me, please. I've worked hard in the past 24 hours to find this patch of my heart. It's a tenuous grasp, and I'm trying to hold on tight.

On the morning of Feb. 27, 2012, Lane walked into the high school cafeteria in Chardon, Ohio, and started shooting.

By the time he was done, three students were dead: Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, who were 16, and 17-year-old Russell King Jr. Three other students were injured: Nate Mueller, 17, Joy Rickers, 19, and Nick Walczak, who is now in a wheelchair. One of the more heartbreaking video images of Tuesday's hearing — and there are so many — is of Walczak's shy smile as he rolled his chair into the courtroom. He later strained to catch a glimpse of his shooter.

Last month, Lane pleaded guilty to all of his crimes. He was 17 at the time of the shootings, so he will escape the death penalty. I do not mourn this legal outcome, as I oppose capital punishment. However, I was overcome with feelings I am ashamed to claim after witnessing Lane's behavior in court Tuesday.

As soon as he sat down in the courtroom, Lane peeled off his light blue oxford shirt to reveal a white T-shirt with a handwritten word scrawled across his chest: "KILLER." He smirked throughout the proceedings, snickering even as victims' families stood and poured out their hearts. Against his lawyer's advice, he turned toward the families and offered a single statement:

"The hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. F--- all of you." Then he pierced the air with his middle finger.

Gasps and a few sobs filled the room.

Lane's lawyer, Ian Friedman, was just as shocked as everyone else in the room. He's been a criminal defense lawyer for 15 years but never seen anything like this.

"People think criminal lawyers don't feel or aren't affected like everyone else," he told me in a phone interview shortly after the hearing.

"That's not true. I had no idea he was wearing that T-shirt under his shirt."

He paused and apologized for needing a moment to collect his thoughts. "That was a horrific courtroom to be sitting in today. The Constitution has to be upheld. Due process has to be upheld. That's my job. But there's no way you aren't affected when something like that happens. I hope I never again have to see that in a courtroom or anywhere else."

Judge David Fuhry of Geauga County Court of Common Pleas later issued a statement saying that had he noticed the T-shirt, he would have ordered Lane to remove it.

It didn't take long for various news sources to post video of Lane's courtroom behavior. I stared at my computer screen, speechless. So alarming, those ugly thoughts swimming in my mind.

Like so many here in Ohio, I wanted Lane to be a broken boy, sobbing over the damage he could not undo. At the very least, I wanted him to be the silent, dazed defendant we'd seen before. Instead, he did everything he could to incite our hate.

Mission accomplished. After Lane was sentenced to life in prison without parole, Facebook and Twitter erupted with vile scenarios of what some hope lies ahead for the unrepentant murderer. Nothing like the Internet to remind us that absent self-vigilance, we can become the monsters we claim to condemn.

I hear the reprimand and guiltily agree: This isn't about us bystanders, and it surely isn't about me. The children who died are irreplaceable; their families are inconsolable. The surviving victims and family members are the only ones who justly wrestle with how to forgive.

Still, there is work for all of us to do. Our response to Lane's monstrous behavior determines our future, too. We must always consider hate's consequence on our own hearts.

I can speak only for myself. I never will know why a troubled boy named T.J. Lane killed those innocent teens in Chardon, Ohio.

But I do know that I must pray for his tortured soul, and I must mean it.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ( and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



9 Comments | Post Comment
Working with teens as I do, I was shocked at this frightened, obnoxious behavior. I am not a psychologist but I sure would like to hear from one who has talked to this young man. I am thinking he decided the best offense is a good defense. But I can't imagine how his mind works. How cruel he is. The judge has no excuse for losing control of this situation, nor does his lawyer for letting him take off his shirt in the first place.

I can't imagine how it is for his parents. Wondering what they did, to create such a misguided, tortured despicable soul.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Sandra Kucinich-Horn
Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:00 PM
It is difficult to feel compassion for this young man and, even more so, to forgive him. But your words have caused me to take pause and look deep into my heart and find the strength to resist the urge to hate him... and I feel more "human" for doing so. Thank you for having the courage to express an opinion that may be widely criticized.
Comment: #2
Posted by: john wynn
Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:04 PM
I am no psychotherapist. But I strongly feel there is something neurologically wrong with T.J. Lane that created a psychopath. I know nothing of his family background; if they are conscientious parents who did their best with their son, they must be suffering unspeakable agonies. Knowing I had given birth to a monster, helpless to stop the tragedy they must have known would someday come. Again, without any proof, I wonder if they had struggled with this son for years, knowing there was something wrong with him. Psychopaths can be charming, disarming, able to deceive psychiatric professionals easily. What would I have done, knowing a child of mine had no feeling for fellow creatures? I don't know. I hope the only solution for keeping the community safe from a T.J. Lane (I, too, am opposed to the death penalty) is carried out, and he is incarcerated for the rest of his life. I can see no purpose in putting him in a psychiatric hospital. There is no cure for psychopathy. The community needs to be protected from him, and this can only be accomplished by removing him from the community.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Jill Spriggs
Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:18 PM
Connie, my good friend, I am an ordained Protestant minister, a former hospice chaplain, and a clergy advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, having ministered to inmates on Illinois' Death Row. Yesterday I shared many of your same emotions. I actually posted that the young man's actions in court were beyond despicable and stated that I would not reduce myself to re-posting the media reports of his disgusting behavior in court. That being said, I, too, recognize that the unrepentant perpetrator of this unspeakable crime is and was a human being, a creature of God. To some degree, we know not how, or in what manner, we as a collective culture have failed him. Yes, he is ultimately responsible for his actions and clearly capable of knowing right from wrong, but the culture that should have been nurturing him bears at least some responsibility – if only to the degree that we have fostered a culture of violence with this result. I grieve for his mother, who I saw pictured on the internet today. I'm certain she did her best to be a good mother, and my God how devastated she must be, as she appeared to be in her anguished photo. But you raise the obvious point: what is our appropriate response, yours and mine? You conclude by saying, “I do know that I must pray for his tortured soul, and I must mean it.” I would add this corrective. You and I must also pray for our own souls. We need to pay attention to this and all the other despicable acts occurring daily in our world and ask our respective Gods for the wisdom and strength and compassion to offer our love to each and every victim and perpetrator of violence, no matter how horrendous. For in the end, this sort of senseless violence will only be overcome by compassion, not by condemnation and further hatred. So as you, and I, “dig deeper for compassion that eludes us,” let us remember, as you so eloquently worded it, we must also pray for ourselves, “lest our own souls wither.”
Comment: #4
Posted by: John Lundin
Wed Mar 20, 2013 4:29 PM
No forgiveness. Put him in an Israeli underground prison in the desert with other terrorists and mass murderers. He will never see the light of day again.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Clevelander
Wed Mar 20, 2013 5:15 PM
I've often wondered what happened to T J Lane to cause him to be this way. Children aren't born like this and I truly feel bad for whatever must have happened to him. I have great empathy for the families; nobody should have to go through what they've gone through. Ever. But forgiveness is necessary if we want to move on. Remember, forgiveness isn't condoning his behavior -- it's simply letting go.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Jim Gerard
Wed Mar 20, 2013 8:28 PM
Thank you Connie. well put and I needed to hear that.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Joanne Mickol
Thu Mar 21, 2013 6:44 AM
Re: Jim Gerard
No true. There are neurological maladies that are there at birth. It's as though something is missing in the capacity to be able to understand another's pain; that the only thing important in the world is one's own comfort and pleasure. Even educated, intelligent parents can be driven to despair by their inability to have any affect on these children. I would hesitate to automatically blame the parents for raising an unfeeling monster. And there are so few resources for people without money to turn to. We can't know what happened in T.J. Lane's home as he was growing up. The only people who know are him and his mother (apparently the father was absent; I have heard nothing about him).
Comment: #8
Posted by: Jill Spriggs
Thu Mar 21, 2013 9:38 AM
I so appreciate this discussion. Thanks to Connie and to all of you.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Catherine Whitright
Sun Mar 24, 2013 12:18 PM
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