Tuesday, October 16, 2007

It happened here.

Whenever tragedy strikes, there is always someone who says, "Things like this don't happen here." It gets said so often, it's cliché. It's also a lie.

I know it's a lie because a tragedy happened here. It happened in my hometown, in the middle school I went to as a young girl, the same school that is next door to the public library where I work now.

On November 7, 1994 Keith Ledeger, a paranoid schizophrenic, entered the middle school with a 12 gauge shotgun. A former student at the school during the 1970s, Mr. Ledeger returned to the school full of rage and alcohol. He asked for the vice-principal, shooting him in the back as the administrator most likely turned to flee. The principal was in his locked office, hiding under his desk with the school secretaries, dialing 911.

The gunman then headed down the hallway to the back office and was seen by Peter Christopher Jr., the custodian, who then hurried to usher children out of the office and into the hall. He was shouting at the children to "Get away, get out!" when the gunman spotted him and fired, hitting him directly and fatally in the chest.

The gunman continued his rampage through the school, wounding a police officer and a teacher before being stopped by a policeman's bullets. The patrolman fired 14 rounds and hit the gunman, who survived, only twice.

All of this took approximately 5 minutes.

I haven't written about this before today for a number of reasons. First, I knew Pete. He was the janitor at the school when I attended and I was in the church choir with him a few years later. I have very clear memories of him and thinking about him in this context is hard. Second, the shooting happened very near to where I work now. In fact, during the shooting, students were herded out the school's side door, across a small parking lot and into the library for safety. Except, the library is not safe. I think about this every day I go to work and pass this sign on the library door. Even when I get my CCW, I will not able to protect myself at work. As you might imagine, thinking about this whole matter is difficult for me.

I remember Pete so vividly, always in his blue coveralls, always there with his smiling, calm presence ready to fix whatever needed fixing at the school. Born on the 4th of July, Pete Christopher was a quiet man who loved his family, his church and his job. He was president of the public school employee's union, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and volunteered for the Special Olympics. He sang beautifully in the church choir, was an avid golfer, loved technology and helped plan, wire, and install many of the school's computer systems.

I went to the school today, to see if I could find a picture of Pete, and was immediately remembered by Mrs. Sparaino, the school's secretary. She let me take photos and look at a folder she has kept in her desk drawer all these years. (thank you, Mrs. Sparaino!) She collected newspaper clippings, police reports, letters, photos, funeral cards, a pressed yellow rose...all memories of a horrible event and the loss of a wonderful man. She was there the day it happened. "Not much to tell," she said. I couldn't get her to say more.

She smiled when she spoke of Pete. We talked about how there was a scholarship fund and a technology lab named in his honor. She said to me, "I'll never forget how easily Pete would blush...about anything." I told her that I remembered that about him too. We laughed a moment and both agreed that he was such a sweet man, who was very much missed.

It pains me to think of his last moments. Unable to defend himself, he still put himself between the muzzle of a shotgun and the schoolchildren. Some might say that he died a hero, but I still hate that he died at all.

In the news recently, there was a story about a teacher who has demanded that she be able to carry a gun to work to protect herself from a violent ex-husband. This makes people panic. They think, "Guns in school? No! What if the teacher gets angry at her students, snaps, and shoots them? What if a student is able to get the gun?"

I think, "What if just one qualified, trained school administrator never allowed the gunman to get past the front office? Would Pete still be here?" I don't know if allowing guns in schools is the answer in situations like these, but I do know that no man should die because he was unable to protect himself from someone who meant him harm. But, sadly, sadly, they do. Even here.


Robb Allen said...

Yeah, it happens all the time, near us, and sometimes to us.

I've already defended my life with a firearm, and I'll be damned if I let the state try to remove that ability from me.

On your sign, it says "unless otherwise authorized by law". I don't know your state's laws, but does your CCW authorize you?

Breda said...

Robb - I looked at the Ohio Att'y General's site and it appears that "authorized by law" = police only.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Morgan said...

An excellent post, Breda...

Less said...

I'm not a lawyer, and "Big boy rules" apply, but you could always choose to carry in an NPE (non-permissive environment.)

This is a big decision, but there are many people in Chicago that have said, "Fuck the law" and packed heat in their homes or on their person even though it is not legal.

You do what you've gotta do. Just when you do (if you do), make sure it's none of anybody else's damn business...

Back when I was a student at University of Chicago, I carried a .38 snubbie everywhere. The neighborhood is no good after dark. Still isn't. I'm not prone to hubris, so it was never an issue.

DirtCrashr said...

It's the "Only Ones" Law and Indemnification Dancing Society...

Anonymous said...

First off, let me congratulate you one providing for yourself defense, especially as a woman.

I understand the frustration of the "sigh" issue. Here in Georgia we are trying to allow all those with GFL (Georgia Firearm License) holders to be allowed to keep guns in their cars.

It died last year, but is been brought back from the dead. Hopefully round two will have it pass.

As for not being allowed a fire arm, I keep on my pepper spray and a knife for defense while at work. As well as staying alert of my surroundings.

It isn’t a gun, but is better than nothing at all.

Breda said...

Scalawag - alternative weapons are a good idea. Thank you.

Linoge said...

Thanks for posting this, Breda. Must have been difficult for you, considering the context, but I definitely appreciate it.

Gregg said...

As someone who has only recently truly escaped Ohio I am painfully aware of the anti-self defense mentality in that state.

Be careful with your choice of alternative weapon. Truly effective pepper spray is not available to non-LEOs. I actually advise against a knife for a variety of reasons. BTW I am a black belt and a self defense instructor so I have some background.

My suggestion for alternative weapons would be a paintball gun and a baseball bat. Both are reasonably innocuous and are not likely to polarize a jury. However, it is a useful combination. NOt only can the paintball gun be used to blind an assailant, but if he runs it should be easy for someone to locate a blinded or half=blinded miscreant covered in flourescent pink paint.

Obviously, if the aforementioned miscreant is armed, then blind him with paint and well... use the bat so that he is no longer a threat.

Oh, and PLEASE practice, practice, practice with the paintball gun at appropriate ranges.

Yes, it's a short range solution, but I only expect you to need it while at work. Otherwise I expect that you will be armed with something a bit more effective than a paint marker.

The Duck said...

Well John Farnum says pack it & hide it well, & ignore the stupid law.
It is said it is easier to ask forgiveness, than to get permission.

Dustin said...

In addition to what Duck mentioned, it has often been said that it is better to be judged by 12, than carried by 6. :)

Great post, thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest when you report on a story, you post the hero's name (the police officer) who stopped this nut from continuing his rampage. He is truly a hero and saved not only another officer's life, but the lives of countless children and teachers by stopping Ledeger from continuing.

Bruce said...

Very moving post. Thank you for sharing it. After coming to the realization that some defense is better than no defense at all, I have taken to carrying a cane. A stout hickory cane with a wicked horn, while potentially a devastating weapon, is considered a "medical device" and as such is legal to carry everywhere: onto airplanes, courthouses, government buildings, and yes, even libraries. There are (usually free) classes all over on the defensive use of a cane and the damage one could do with an inch- thick hickory cane and some motivation is sobering. I bought mine from Canemasters.com as they make good ones and do offer training in both defense and exercise/rehabilitation using the cane. I do still carry my firearm though whenever not prohibited from doing so--cause you just never know...

mindyourbuisness said...

As a person that was actually there, I do not believe it is your place to be using that event as a justification to carry a gun. I was 12 when that terrible day occurred, and remember it every day of my life. I appreciate your right to the opinion of carrying a concealed weapon, but I do not appreciate you trying to stoke emotion from an event you had no involvement in to further your agenda!

Breda said...

If you are who you claim to be, it sounds like you still have some serious issues. Perhaps you should look into getting yourself some counseling.

However, due to your choice of words ("opinion", "agenda"), I'm far more inclined to believe that you're just an anti-gun troll looking for an online argument.

Nice try, though.

Missy said...

a very nice post, though i can't say that i agree with you on the gun issue (i can see your side of it though). i was in 8th grade (in science class) at the middle school during the shooting. i still remember the bus ride home with the other kids joking and laughing like nothing happened. i guess the experience left me with the feeling that the more guns that are being carried around, the more opportunity there is for them to be used and people to be hurt.

Breda said...

Bad guys will always find a way to have guns - they break laws, that's why they're criminals. They'll break gun laws too.

Good guys need a chance to defend themselves and Pete Christopher was definitely one of the good guys.