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John Eltzroth/Chardon United Methodist Church

Youth from the Chardon (Ohio) United Methodist Church hold hands in prayer in this file photo from last year's Appalachia Mission Team trip.

Churches reach out after Ohio shootings

School violence came to a United Methodist church's neighborhood on Monday morning.

If you look at an aerial view of Chardon High School, 30 miles east of Cleveland, you will see the nearby Chardon United Methodist Church, where the Rev. H. Daniel Drew is pastor.

As the school day began Feb. 27, a young man opened fire in the high school cafeteria while students were eating breakfast. Five students were shot, according to news reports. Three were wounded critically and airlifted to MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, where one died. Two others were taken to Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

The suspect, identified as T.J. Lane by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, is in custody. He is believed to be a student at the high school. None of the victims has been identified.

Students were evacuated to Maple Elementary School. Administrators locked down schools in Chardon and reported remaining students were safe.

"We've heard from several parents," said Cathy Comerford, Chardon United Methodist Church business manager. "Two of our kids were in the cafeteria but were not shot."

A guidance counselor and two teachers are members of Chardon United Methodist Church. The guidance counselor declined to comment, saying all statements had to come from the superintendent of schools.

"The school is just down the road from us," Drew said. "We're close enough that we have a lot of relationships with the faculty and the students." Students take academic achievement tests every spring at the church.

"This is a hard thing," he added. Chardon, a close-knit town of about 5,100 people, "is known as a very friendly, growing community." About 30 teens participate in the youth group at the 1,000-member church.

At mid-morning, Drew was heading over to the school "to see if there is anything we can do," he said, and then he was going to a community meeting.

Melanie Reuter, executive director for the Wesley Foundation at the University of Cincinnati, said two students who live at the Wesley House are graduates of Chardon High, and one student's mother currently works there. Reuter led a prayer vigil a few hours after the shooting.

Drew encouraged prayers for everyone involved. A community ecumenical prayer service is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Church of St. Mary, a Catholic parish in Chardon.

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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