CHARDON -- I had an early story scheduled that morning. As I was driving into work, I heard the news over the radio. Shots fired at Chardon High School. I knew instantly my assignment had changed.
In the news business, we often cover tragedies. We've covered school shootings before, too, like the one that happened across the street from WKYC at Success Tech.
For some reason, this one seemed different.
Perhaps it's because Chardon seemed like such a bucolic place to settle down and raise a family. Usually when one thinks of Chardon, we think of snow and the first winter live shot of the season in Chardon Square.
It's where you get the best maple syrup, not where someone guns down classmates waiting for a bus in the high school cafeteria.
But it happened.
Over the next few days, I watched a community ravaged by grief come together to support one another. Some didn't even know Danny, Russ, Demetrius, Nick, Joy or Nate. But they all felt wounded and their hearts ached for the families and friends who would feel the loss and be forced to remember that day more painfully clear than others.
A month after the shooting, I had the privilege of meeting Nick Walczak. He was still recovering from four gunshot wounds at MetroHealth Medical Center.
One of those bullets hit his spine leaving him paralyzed but also saving his life. His spine stopped the bullet from entering his heart.
Nick allowed me to join him on his journey to recovery. I watched him do wheelies in his wheelchair and then learn how to drive a car with only his hands. I watched a boy become a man, not just because he turned 18, but because his experience forced him to learn how to adjust to the realities of life earlier than his peers.
His family amazes me. So vulnerable yet so strong and determined to help Nick achieve all he can. But the act of one person impacted life as they knew it as well. They had to recover too.
I watched a community give generously to a fund that helped Nick gain some independence.
But what impressed me most were Nick's friends. The bond they share would last long beyond high school.
Seeing how close they are made me understand more deeply the loss they felt over the deaths of Danny, Russ and Demetrius.
I watched how they became Nick's "legs" and were always there to help him whenever he needed a boost, both physically and emotionally. They forced him to learn life might be different, but friendships are the same.
He inspired them to put the past behind and move forward. They'll do it because they owe it to the three who cannot.