(CBS/AP) CHARDON, Ohio The teenager suspected in an Ohio school shooting struggled with a broken family and did poorly in school, then appeared to turn himself around once he was taken in by grandparents and began to attend an alternative school, longtime neighbors and friends said Wednesday.
To a person, they expressed disbelief at how the quiet but friendly boy could now be a suspect in a shooting that left three people dead and appears to have involved a gun that disappeared from his grandfather's barn.
"T.J. was a very fine person," Carl Henderson, a longtime neighbor of the suspect's grandparents, Thomas and Michelle Lane, said Wednesday. "Nice-looking man, very friendly, spoke to you, carried a conversation with you."
The gun, a .22 caliber revolver, was noticed as missing after Monday's shootings and fits the description of the pistol that reportedly was used to kill three students and wound two others at Chardon High School, said Henderson, a retired police officer and former Geauga County sheriff. He said he has spoken to the grandfather, Thomas Lane, about the gun.
The suspect's grandfather believes the gun is the same, "because the gun was there the day before, in the barn," said Henderson, 74, who says he's been friends with the boy's family for nearly 50 years.
A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said the gun used in the shooting, a Ruger .22-caliber Mark III target pistol, was bought legally in August 2010 from a gun shop in Mentor, Ohio.
The official, who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said Lane told authorities he stole gun from his uncle. It wasn't clear Wednesday whether the gun might have been the same one missing from the grandfather's barn. Henderson said he isn't aware of an uncle's involvement with the gun.
Lane, 17, admitted taking a pistol and a knife to the 1,100-student Chardon High and firing 10 shots at a group of students sitting at a cafeteria table, prosecutor David Joyce said.
A police report said 33 officers from around the area responded to what was first described as a "shooting accidental" and was over in less than a minute. Emergency crews from four fire departments also responded, according to the report obtained by the AP through a public records request.
The grandparents feel terrible about what happened and have no explanation for the teen's alleged role in the shootings, Henderson said.
Lane came from a broken family but seemed to heal over time, said Henderson, who added that the boy began living with his grandparents off and on several years ago.
Lane's father, Thomas Lane, 40, served seven months in prison in 2003 on charges of disrupting public service and felonious assault, according to state prison records. Messages were left Wednesday at numbers listed for Thomas Lane. Neighbors said he visited his son often, sometimes taking him and his sister camping or to the school to catch the bus.
Russ Miller, who also lives near the Nolans, said he has known Lane since the boy was 5 or 6 years old and the grandparents for at least 35 years. He described Lane as an "easy going" person whose grades had improved since he left Chardon High School about a year and a half ago and began attending Lake Academy, a school associated with the local career center.
"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," Miller said.
Miller, 64, a retired sheet metal worker, said he had talked to him about joining the military, but the boy hadn't made plans.
"He was a typical 17-year-old," said Miller, a Vietnam veteran. "He didn't really know what he wanted to do in his life." He said Lane didn't smoke, drink or do drugs and was "kind of a health nut."
About 55 students attend Lake Academy, a 15-year-old school for students who haven't done well in traditional schools. The school, about 15 miles away from Chardon in Willoughby, has security measures including electronically controlled doors and surveillance cameras but no metal detectors. School officials declined to comment Wednesday.