The Shooting at Chardon High

When shots rang out in the Ohio HS, coach Frank Hall ran toward them instead of away, saving an untold number of young lives

The following is a script from "The Shooting at Chardon High" which aired on Feb. 23, 2014. Scott Pelley is the correspondent. Robert Anderson, producer.

Two years ago this week three students were killed and three were wounded in a high school shooting you probably don't remember because there are so many. An assistant football coach named Frank Hall helped stop that shooting. But when we sat down with him recently, Hall told us he wished there was no reason to know his name or, God forbid, think of him as a hero. He's the type you'd call a “regular guy.”

On February 27th, 2012, Hall was doing what he always did. With hugs and fist bumps, he kept order among a hundred kids gathering in the school cafeteria before class. Then, Hall was confronted by a question no one can truly answer. What would you do at the sound of gunfire? No time to think. There's only the reflex of character. This is the story of a fraction of a second and the months of consequences that follow.

 So much time has passed and still no one in Chardon, Ohio, knows why it happened. In February 2012, they’d been marking the inches of Lake Erie snow and counting the days ‘til the tapping of the maples. Forbes had said that this was the fourth best place in America to raise a family. And many of the 5,000 in Chardon credited the high school, ranked excellent, 13 years in a row.

[911: What is your emergency? This is Chardon High School calling. We need assistance right now. There’s a student with a gun.]

At 7:35, the call came from the principal’s office, there, teacher Tim Armelli heard shots down the hall.

Tim Armelli: You knew that the shooting was what it was. You’re your head’s telling you there’s shots, your heart’s not believing it. You, you freeze for a moment. You don’t think you’re gonna see your wife or kids again.

Scott Pelley: You got onto the school PA and said what?

Tim Armelli: “Lockdown. Teachers, go to lockdown.”

In the cafeteria, through the door on the left, a 17-year-old boy who went by the inititals “TJ” was shooting to kill. He’d put 10 rounds in his gun and six letters across his shirt. “Killer,” it said.

Frank Hall: I saw a young man firing into a crowd. I just stood up, shoved my table out of the way and started after him.

It’s tough even now for Frank Hall to speak of it. But with the support of his wife, he told us what happened when he charged at the boy with the gun.

Frank Hall: He raises his weapon at me, I jumped behind a Pepsi machine, I hear another fire.

That bullet missed Hall, so he kept chasing the student down the corridor.

Frank Hall: And he sees me and he takes off down the hallway so I chase after him again screaming, yelling.  Kids still running. And I get to within like six, seven, eight feet of him and—there was a young man at the end of the hallway right in front of the doors. Nick Walczak and TJ shoots him in the back.

Nick Walczak: I was shot once in the spine. That paralyzed me. And that’s when I went down.

Scott Pelley: What do you remember seeing or hearing of Coach Hall in those moments?

Nick Walczak: He said, as he’s running by me, he said “Hang tight.  I’ll be back.” 

Pursued by Hall, the shooter ran without loading the second magazine that he carried with 10 more rounds.

Frank Hall: Then I chased TJ out the doors and I lose him in the parking lot and—47 seconds.  From the first shot till he exited the doors, 47 seconds. 

Hall ran back to the cafeteria where Daniel Parmertor, Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King were not going to survive.

Frank Hall: You just knew that it wasn’t gonna end well. So I just asked God to be in this place with us and to be with them. I went around and I tried to comfort them the best I could and, Demetrius had a long tear on his face and I wiped it and tried to make Danny and Russell as comfortable as I could. They were still breathing. They were trying to fight. What was only a couple minutes seemed like forever waiting for the paramedics and law enforcement. It was tough.

Scott Pelley: But those boys needed somebody to be with them.

Frank Hall: Yeah. You know, I’m so thankful, very thankful that I could be there.

Scott Pelley: The emergency plan in essence is to get all the kids out of the hallways get them all into rooms lock those rooms and shelter in place?

Tim Armelli: Correct.

Scott Pelley: Frank didn’t do that?

Tim Armelli: He didn’t. He acted as a father, you know, he acted as someone that was those kids’ parents while they’re away from home.

 Scott Pelley: There's nothing in the plan that says, "Assistant fooball coach chases gunman through the school"?

Frank Hall: You just think about getting’ him out of your room, you know, get him out of your area.

Scott Pelley:  And you did that. You got him out of the cafeteria. But you kept going.

Frank Hall: I just reacted that day. I just, I just, you know he was hurting our kids and that’s all I did.  I just reacted…

Nate Mueller: As soon as you’re staring down the barrel of a gun you just take off.

Death missed Nate Mueller by less than an inch. A bullet tore through the top of his ear.

Nate Mueller: And for him to be a teacher and to put himself in harm’s way to chase him out of the building for kids that were just students in his cafeteria is amazing.

Scott Pelley: He never thought of you as just students.

Nate Mueller: No.

Nick Walczak: No, we were his family.

Scott Pelley: And you know that now.

Nick Walczak: Oh yeah.  Oh yeah.

It wasn’t long after the gunman bolted out through that door that he was found in the woods by the police.  He gave himself up without incident, pled guilty and has been sentenced to life without parole.  He has never given a reason or a motive for the shooting.

At sentencing the judge wondered whether he did it to make a name for himself. So the community asked us to keep his name and his face out of this. And we have.

When it was over hall texted “I’m OK” to his wife, Ashley, but she didn’t know what he’d done until he came home.

Ashley Hall: He said he was sorry that he had put himself in that situation and that you know, he realized that he could’ve been shot and that would’ve left us without a husband and without a father.

There was a lot to leave behind. Ashley works for the county placing kids in foster care. And the halls have adopted four of those kids, Christian, Quincy and the twins Mark and Shawn. Sheltering kids is a way of life for the Hall’s which is why he can’t understand how school shootings have become a fact of life.

Frank Hall: We need to change. We gotta stop this from happening. I mean, I remember when Columbine happened. Everybody in the world knew what Columbine was.  I mean, I can’t sit here and tell you every school that’s had a school shooting now. We need to find ways to secure our schools better. We need to make a stand right now that our schools need to be the most important thing we have in this country, not Wall Street, not Capitol Hill, our schools. We need to determine that in our minds and heart, that our school and our children need to be the most important thing we have. That’s the bottom line.

Three days after the shooting, students reclaimed the most important thing they had: Chardon High School.

Tim Armelli: Frank chasing the shooter out of the building, allowed us to not say we were victims. It allowed us to fight the evil. We were not gonna let that evil take over. And Frank, by his show of courage, allowed all of us to fight.

Tim Armelli: They came down arm in arm, 1,100 kids right, marched right down the center of the street and coming back into that school and taking over it was our first step in our recovery.

Frank Hall: I don’t know why this happened.  I only wish I could have done more.  I’m not a hero. Just a football coach and a study hall teacher. 

A hero in a tragedy never feels heroic. Every hug, every “Thank You” that Frank Hall endured took him back to the boys in the cafeteria.

Frank Hall: You know they’ll never have another birthday.

Scott Pelley: Frank, no one could ask you to do more than you did.

Frank Hall: Yea I know. It’s just hard. You just want so bad to be able to take ‘em home. Sometimes I get mad about it, I get angry. You know, Scott, I wish you weren’t here. I wish I was never on TV. I’d give anything for this not to be happening right now.

Coach Hall returned to Chardon but he was tormented by the memories. Ten months later, when the shooting happened at Sandy Hook Elementary he couldn’t finish the day. It wasn’t long after that, when Hall did something that surprised and saddened many. He left Chardon High School. He had heard about some kids in the county next door who needed him more.

Ashtabula County had not made the cut for “best place to raise a family.” Thirty-one percent of the kids here live in poverty.

The high school had won only two football games in three years. The head coach quit. And that’s how Frank Hall made a comeback.

[Frank Hall: Green go straight. Get it down. Go. Hey great kick. Nice job. Act like gentleman play hard right?

Players: Yes, sir.]

Tyree Meeks: He changed everything round here.

Tyree Meeks and Damondre Haywood are on Hall’s new team at Lakeside High.

Tyree Meeks: He told us, he’s not only gonna make us great football players, but he’s gonna make us men.

Scott Pelley: Sounds to me like with Coach Hall, it's not all about X's and O's and blocking and tackling.

Tyree Meeks: Oh, no. No.

[Frank Hall: Done a great job from your effort on the practice people to your effort in the classroom to your respect of the school and the teachers.]

When a player smarted off to one of the teachers, Hall made it a problem for everyone on the team, a reflex of character.

 Tyree Meeks: Each and every single last football player had to go and apologize to that teacher, just because it’s that important.  It’s like—

Scott Pelley: Wait, the players who didn’t talk back to the teacher also had to go and apologize?

Tyree Meeks: Yeah, Yeah.

Scott Pelley: What was the point of that?

Tyree Meeks: It’s just based upon, like if one of us messes up, we all mess up.  Like family, you know.

Damondre Haywood: It’s to show that we’ve changed. ‘Cause, you know, last year before Coach Hall came here, the football players they were getting in trouble all the time and he wanted to really make sure that the teachers knew that it was a big change so we all went down there and apologized to her for how our brother acted towards her.

And so, there was a big change on the field. They won their first game, then two more.  This last season was building toward their final contest—an away game—back at Chardon High.

It had been eight months since Coach Hall had left.

Scott Pelley: We were with you at the ballgame with Chardon. Couldn’t help but notice when you walked out by yourself to collect your thoughts.  And I wondered what you were thinking in that moment?

Frank Hall: I was being thankful. All the blessings that I have, you know four healthy boys, a beautiful wife. I was very thankful for my players, for those kids at Chardon, for this community. Thankful.

[Announcer: Coach. Welcome back. And thank you.]

An opposing coach…

[Chanting: We love Coach Hall.]

Never gets a welcome like this.

Hall didn’t win the game. His old team at Chardon was better that night, 49 to 21.  But it was the homecoming that mattered more.

[Frank Hall: Love you buddy. How you been? How you guys doing?]

At the end, two teams rallied around one coach -- a regular guy of extraordinary character.

Frank Hall: I’m so proud right now of each and everyone of you. Serve your family, take care of your family, serve them you understand me.

Teams: Yes sir!

Frank Hall: Alright, love you.

  • Scott Pelley

    Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News;" Correspondent, "60 Minutes"

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