CHARDON, Ohio—The deadline to file charges in a fatal high school shooting loomed Thursday as students still reeling from the slaying of three teenagers marched by the hundreds to their reopened school and family members of victims recounted their losses.
The uncle of slain student Danny Parmertor said the family has been amazed by calls of condolences from around the world. Ron Parmertor said if there is any lesson to be learned from the shooting, it's to notify authorities at the first sign of potentially troubling remarks on social media networks.
Shooting suspect T.J. Lane is believed to have left dark messages on Facebook.
"Tell your mom and dad, tell the police, tell a counselor, tell a principal, tell a neighbor, tell a friend," Parmertor said. "Just tell somebody."
Nick Wolczak, who survived despite being shot in the neck, arm and back, remains optimistic, said his mother, Holly Wolczak.
"He's strong, he's brave," she said at a news conference in Eastlake, about 20 miles from Chardon, where the shootings happened Monday. "It's probably going to be a long hospital stay, but we'll get through it."
On Thursday morning, students started the day gathered around a courthouse square gazebo, quietly singing the alma mater, many with their parents and wearing the school colors of red and black.
Students hugged the parents and one another as they left the gazebo, which was decorated with a growing memorial of red roses and carnations, stuffed animals, burned-down candles and handwritten messages of support.
Six hand-drawn angels graced a plastic-covered piece of cardboard with the wish "May God Bless everybody in Chardon." Two bunches of black and white balloons tied to the gazebo railing included red heart-shaped balloons bearing the names of two victims, and a heart cut from red felt read "ONE HEARTBEAT" and urged people to pray for the town.
"I'm just scared for everybody, and I don't know how everybody is going to act going back into school," said freshman Theodore Rosch, 16, as his father, Will Rosch, wrapped his left arm around his son's shoulders.
A judge said prosecutors had until the end of the business day on Thursday to file charges against Lane, a thin, quiet 17-year-old accused of opening fire on a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table at 1,100-student Chardon High School. Three students died, and two were seriously wounded.
A prosecutor has said Lane, who is in custody, will probably be charged with three counts of aggravated murder and other offenses. Prosecutors are expected to ask that he be tried as an adult.
Lane had been in trouble before, accused of choking and punching his uncle in an assault case from 2009, according to court records released this week by the Geauga County sheriff's office and Judge Timothy Grendell.
Lane's uncle had come by the house where Lane was living with his grandparents on Dec. 9, 2009, after Lane said he didn't want to go to a volunteer job required for school, according to the sheriff's office report.
The uncle planned to remove Lane's brother, a drug addict, in hopes of preventing further problems, but the brother didn't want to go and punched the uncle after he tried to grab his coat, the report said.
Lane jumped on his uncle and tried to put him in a "choke hold" while his brother grabbed their uncle's legs, the report said. "TJ stated that he was helping his brother out because he assumed John was hurting Adam," the report said.
Lane entered the juvenile court equivalent of a guilty plea to a reduced misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and was given a suspended sentence of up to 30 days in jail.
Grendell wouldn't say if there are other files on Lane that might be covered by a law allowing certain records to be withheld.
Longtime neighbors and friends on Wednesday expressed disbelief at how Lane could be the suspect, describing a boy from a broken family who had struggled in school but appeared to improve once he began staying with his grandparents and attending an alternative school with several dozen students.
"He went from flunking out, from what I understand, to almost a straight-A student with honors, and he was going to graduate a year early," said Russ Miller, who has known Lane for more than a decade and lives near Jack Nolan, Lane's grandfather. Nolan has familial custody of the teenager.
Miller, a Vietnam veteran, said he had talked to Lane about joining the military, but the boy hadn't made plans.
"He was a typical 17-year-old," Miller said. "He didn't really know what he wanted to do in his life." He said Lane didn't smoke, drink or do drugs and is "kind of a health nut."
Another neighbor said Lane played outside often with his sister, building snow hills and skateboarding.
Steve Sawczak, a pastor who has worked with troubled children and lives next to the Nolans, said he never saw hints of trouble from Lane. He said the grandparents gave Lane a healthy place to live and have been left shocked and devastated.
Lane's father, Thomas Lane, had served time in prison on charges of disrupting public service and felonious assault, according to state prison records. Neighbors said he visited his son often, sometimes taking him and his sister camping or to the school to catch the bus.
Prosecutor David Joyce has described the younger Lane as "someone who's not well" and said the teen didn't know the victims but chose them randomly. Killed were Demetrius Hewlin, 16, Russell King Jr., 17, and Parmertor, 16.
Hewlin's parents told ABC News they have forgiven Lane for shooting their son, noting that Demetrius was often late for school, but not late enough on Monday.
Demetrius' mother Phyllis Ferguson said Wednesday she doesn't know what her son's last moments were like, but she can't worry about that.
"You have to accept things and move on," she said.
When asked what she would say to the suspected shooter, Ferguson said, "I would tell him I forgive him because, a lot of times, they don't know what they're doing. That's all I'd say." Hewlin's parents said they are donating his organs. Their son would have turned 17 next week.
An 18-year-old girl who was hurt in the shootings was released from the hospital Tuesday and was home with relatives, who declined to comment. The second injured teen remained in serious condition Wednesday at a suburban Cleveland hospital.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday offered condolences to Chardon High School Principal Andy Fetchik, telling him in a phone call he was heartbroken by the news and asking how he and the school community were holding up, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported.
A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the .22-caliber gun used in the shooting was bought legally in August 2010 from a gun shop in Mentor. The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said Lane told authorities he stole a gun from his uncle.
But a former county sheriff who has long lived near Lane's other grandparents indicated that the shooting appears to have involved a gun that disappeared from a family barn.
A pistol fitting the description of the one used in the shootings was noticed missing after the shooting, said Carl Henderson, 74, a neighbor of grandparents Thomas and Michelle Lane. He said he has spoken to the grandfather and that the man believes the gun is the same.
Both sides in the legal case are under a gag order imposed by the judge at the prosecutor's request. Grendell earlier barred media outlets from taking photos of the suspect's face but reversed the decision Wednesday and said Lane, who appeared at his hearing wearing a bullet proof vest, may be photographed at a pending a hearing next Tuesday. Social media sites have been full of angry and hate-filled remarks directed at Lane.
The AP transmitted photos and video of Lane that were taken before Tuesday's order. The AP and at least one other media outlet, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, challenged the judge's order Wednesday.