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Shook-up dad learns daughter 'was right there'
Shook-up dad learns daughter 'was right there'
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
It was day that stood still for Chardon Township Trustee Charles Strazinsky Jr.
It was 10:30 a.m. Feb. 27 when Mr. Strazinsky was reunited with his daughter after a morning of anxiety and fear of the unknown as news that gunshots had been fired at Chardon High School spread through the community.
"It didn't seem like three hours," Mr. Strazinsky said. "I didn't feel like time was dragging whatsoever."
By the time he reached his daughter, he learned that she was as close as one could get to the deadly gunfire that erupted and changed a school forever.
Mr. Strazinsky had begun his day earlier than most, he said, getting dressed to take his wife to a doctor's appointment.
At 7:45 a.m., he was ready to go out the door when he received a text from a friend who teaches at the school. "Shooting and lock-down," the text read. He said feelings of anxiety and fear began to creep into his mind.
His first reaction, Mr. Strazinsky said, was to call someone, but who? Chardon Fire Chief Larry Gaspar, a friend from childhood, was his first thought, but he also figured that call would be futile under the circumstances. "Very unexpectedly he answered," he said. "He said, 'I don't know anything, but there's been a shooting at the high school. I gotta go.'
"I remember a chill going through my spine to the point where I thought I was going to drop the phone," he said.
News reports were identifying the cafeteria as the place where the gunshots were fired, Mr. Strazinsky said. "I said to my wife, baby girl's in the same room this is happening."
He drove toward the high school but was turned back at Chardon Avenue, so he went to the middle school, he said.
Like every other parent there, Mr. Strazinsky stood and waited, hoping to hear what was going on. He tried his daughter's cell phone but couldn't get through. Later, he learned she had turned it off, a school rule, and didn't think to turn it on until police arrived.
He said parents there talked among themselves, trying to get a sliver of information on what was happening. But much of what they were learning was just misinformation, he said, and their fears were heightened more.
Mr. Strazinksy said he tried not to think the unthinkable. "I told myself I raised a good kid. She's going to do the right thing, instead of thinking she's been shot," he said.
He later got a call from his wife, who told him his daughter had called, and she was all right. "It was the first time I cried," he said.
He was told to walk to Maple Elementary School to meet his daughter. The two gave each other a big hug and began walking. He offered her his coat when she told him she was cold.
Then they stopped to pick up a brother and sister at the middle school. As they walked to the car, Mr. Strazinsky said, he asked her if she was near where it happened. "She stopped walking and said, 'I was right there. I saw it happen,'" he said.
She began to cry but stopped, saying she wanted to be strong for her younger brother and sister, he said, but the tears flowed again when she was reunited with her mother and grandmother.
As the family gathered to watch the news reports, Mr. Strazinsky said, his daughter began to talk about what had happened. "She said, 'We were sitting there, just like any other morning,'" he said.
When the first class bell rang, she told him, T.J. Lane got up from his seat. The bell signaled the start of the first classes, but T.J. was not headed to class, and several students asked where was he going. He said, "I forgot something, and I'll be right back," she said.
It was moments later when students heard the first "pop," but the sound often is heard in the cafeteria when students pop their lunch bags.
Mr. Strazinsky said his daughter turned in the direction of the sound when the second pop was heard, and she saw T.J. and a gun.
Although the scene was real, Mr. Strazinsky said, his daughter could not conceive that and convinced herself it was another drill. "She told me she thought they're going pretty far with this one. Wow, they've even got blood," he said.
As she watched the shooting, he said, his daughter thought of how expertly the boy handled the gun. "She said he looked professional," he said. "She said, 'He looked like he knew exactly what he was doing.'"
The reality of the situation quickly took over, and she dove under a table with her friend, T.J.'s sister, Mr. Strazinsky said. "She said T.J.'s sister kept saying, 'That can't be my brother. That's not my brother.'"
Mr. Strazinsky said his daughter told him she thought about how she had at least had the chance to kiss and hug her parents goodbye that day, something many students facing the threat didn't have the chance to do.
Mr. Strazinsky said his daughter asked what a silencer looked like, because she expected the gunshots to be louder.
And she worried about her friend, T.J. Lane's sister, and how she might be treated at the school. He said he was proud as a parent to know her thoughts were of the welfare of a friend.
He said T.J. had sometimes sat at the morning table with his daughter and her friends. "She told me he was nice to me. He was quiet and shy." Just a few weeks earlier, T.J. had complimented her on a pair of earrings she was wearing, he said.
Mr. Strazinsky said his daughter has no intentions of continuing to speak of that day. "She said, 'All I want to do is get through this. I don't want to talk about this -- I don't know what to say,'" he said.
He said he's somewhat apprehensive about how his daughter will handle going back to school. "Her day is going to start just like that day -- in the cafeteria," he said.
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