Breaking News
More () »

3News Investigates: Are the kids safe?

Ten years after the tragic Chardon High shooting, experts weigh in on school safety and what could go wrong.

CHARDON, Ohio — Andy Fetchik remembers the date.

"Some days, it feels like it's been 100 years," he said. "Other days, it seems like yesterday. It depends on the moment that it hits you.

"Of course, the date is coming up. I know it's weighing heavy on folks.”

Feb. 27, 2012, is the date seared into Fetchik's memory. He was the principal of Chardon High School when the next 90 seconds changed everything, leaving three students dead and three injured.

"It was a typical day," he recalled, "kind of a snowy February day, like most days in Chardon in February. The bell had rang as normal, and at 7:37, we heard gunshots. We went into lockdown and went from there."

ONE HEARTBEAT: Chardon High School shooting: 10 years later

Feb. 27 was a day Chardon High prepared for, training students and staff during active shooter drills just two years earlier.

"The superintendent at the time Joe Bergant and I really went round and round about whether we should do this," Fetchik said, "but we knew it the was right thing to do, and that at the end of the day was why we did it.

“[Later, Bergant] said, unequivocally, that without that drill, more people would've died, and I'm very proud we did stick with that."

Changes followed as school officials throughout Northeast Ohio re-examined their safety protocols, hoping to fend off another Feb. 27. Those measures included stricter security, more counseling, and more watching for any signs of trouble.

So the question arises: Are our children safer 10 years after the Chardon High shooting?

Across the U.S., 34 people in all were killed in our schools in 2012. In fact, later that year, a gunman inside Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut killed 26 students and staff. Other shootings have followed at schools across the country: At least 189, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"The farther away you are from a high-profile incident like Chardon, the greater the apathy and denial sets in," Ken Trump, a national expert on school security, explained, "which can actually make schools less safe than in the time immediately after a high-profile incident."

Nonetheless, experts believe our students and teachers are safer, despite the shootings that have followed Chardon. Schools are more focused on mental health and the warning signs students sometimes provide before shootings.

Professor Scott Poland is the co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southern University in Florida. He has responded to 16 school shooting scenes and has studied these attacks for decades.

He believes we've learned from past shootings and our kids safer, but it's imperative, he added, that we all remain focused on student behavior and personality or behavioral changes, and just as importantly, diligently securing or eliminating firearms inside the homes of at-risk students.

"I believe almost every school shooting should've been prevented," Poland said, "because every school shooter talked about what they were going to do."

School security is a balancing act between creating a safe learning environment and ensuring everyone is protected. That's why many schools avoided metal detectors and instead opted for school resource officers and more counselors. Experts say remaining aware and reviewing security plans and policy, especially in a post-pandemic world, remain an important component.

"The question really isn't whether Chardon or any other incident is a wake-up call; the question is will we hit the snooze button and go back to sleep," Trump noted. "Six months or six years down the road without another shooting, are people as vigilant as the days after a high-profile incident, and the answer tends to be 'No.'"

Since the shooting, Fetchik has left Chardon High, but his younger children are now students there, learning inside a building embraced by a community forever woven in history to Feb. 27, 2012. Fetchik said he prefers to remember the community response and the students lost that day, and not the ugliness that led to it all.

"I think that's kind of a cathartic thing for me as well to remember," he said, "because unfortunately, when that date does roll around, you do think of loss and death, and it shouldn't be what we think of."

Before You Leave, Check This Out