West Liberty-Salem Schools Superintendent Kraig Hissong provided an update on the school district as students returned to the school Tuesday for the first time since last Friday’s school shooting.
During a press conference held at the Mad River Farm Market, Hissong spoke on resuming school and the support the district has received since the shooting.
“This morning has gotten off to a good start in general students entered the building today with smiling faces,” Hissong said. “I believe this is due to many factors: first how supportive families of the West-Liberty Salem community have embraced our staff and our student body and have supported and encouraged them on their return to school today. We cannot thank our community enough for the thoughts and prayers and I can speak for our staff that we are so proud to serve this community.
“Second, we have received endless support from all over the country. People have been dressing in orange and black and they’ve been joining our Tiger family. Next we want to thank other local school districts and agencies for sending counselors to be with our students and staff today, their support is critical to helping us as it is needed. And last, again, thank you to our local law enforcement and our first responders for staying with us even today and supporting us on the return to school. Their presence provided a sense of security this morning and helped us enter the building.”
Speaking on school security, Hissong said the school tried to limit the number of entrance points for students on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, the school district held an open house for the community at a middle school basketball game. Hissong said this event did even more than expected at easing fears and reassuring students to help lead to a smooth return to school Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning, Hissong said WL-S middle school/high school principal Greg Johnson provided a video to students discussing last Friday’s shooting. The video ended with a message from Logan Cole, one of the two victims in the shooting.
“That video ended with a video clip of Logan Cole in the hospital basically wishing all his student body to do well today and very happy that they got to return to school today and he was looking forward to joining them in the near future,” Hissong said.
Hissong noted WL-S elementary principal Aaron Hollar did similar things at the elementary school and therapy dogs were brought in.
Regarding the status of Cole, Hissong said his condition was stable.
“He obviously has a lot of serious injuries and wounds, but he is conscious, he is awake, he is talking and visiting with people who are coming to the hospital and at this point he’s doing very well considering what he’s been through,” Hissong said. “We still have a lot of thoughts and prayers out for him because there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen but he is as good as we could ever hope for at this point.”
Hissong noted there was recognition of Logan Cole prior to Monday’s basketball game and a student-led prayer vigil was held for him prior to school starting on Tuesday.
According to a publicly-viewable Facebook post on Tuesday morning from Cole’s father Ryan, Logan Cole was moved out of ICU later Saturday evening and has been successful with a series of steps since that time.
The post continues by stating during x-rays a radiologist detected what was believed to be a pellet near or in the heart. Following an echocardiogram, Ryan Cole stated doctors said there is a pellet in one of the chambers of the heart.
“The awesome news is that it is on the right side. The right side is the low pressure side that feeds into the lungs,” Ryan Cole stated in the Facebook post. “This means that it did not require immediate surgery and Logan is not in immediate risk. There are several risks associated with this condition. As we understand it, the highest risk is that the foreign material in the body will allow bacteria to grow and will put Logan at a much higher risk of heart infection (lead is a material that is more conducive to bacteria growth). They estimate the risk that this would lead to further complication at some point in the future to be 20-30 percent.
“The alternative to leaving the pellet in is to do open heart surgery and to remove the pellet. This is typically a pretty safe surgery but there are risks associated with it. The risks to Logan may be higher due to the open wounds he has from the gunshots as well as the damage to the spinal cord.
“Logan was supposed to go into surgery today to have the wounds cleaned (they currently change the dressing daily but wanted to do a more thorough cleaning, stitch up what they could, and possible add wound vacs). The trauma team (which is coordinating Logan’s care) will meet with the cardio surgery team, the wound care team and the neurology surgery team to determine the best course of action from there.
“We would ask that you continue to pray for healing for Logan. We would also ask you to pray for wisdom for the doctors as well as Logan, Julie, and myself with regard to the decision needing to be made about open heart surgery.”
A second juvenile victim who is also a West Liberty-Salem High School student was later identified as having been struck by part of the shot that was discharged from the firearm. Hissong said Tuesday he had not been given authority to release the identity of the student but noted their wounds were minor.
The shooter, Ely R. Serna, 17, is facing 13 charges including two counts of attempted murder and six counts of improperly discharging a firearm at or into a habitation or a school safety zone. Serna appeared in the juvenile division of the Champaign County Common Pleas Court Monday during which he was ordered to remain in detention during the pendency of the case.
In a press release issued over the weekend, Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi stated his office will file a motion requesting the juvenile court relinquish jurisdiction and bind Serna’s case over to the general division of the common pleas court so Serna may be tried as an adult. The motion was filed on Monday.
A conference between the attorneys in the case is scheduled to take place as soon as possible but no date was set during Monday’s hearing.
Hissong said Tuesday he did not have a motive or understanding behind why the shooting occurred.
While he personally has not been in touch with Serna’s family, Hissong said the school has been in touch with them. He said the response has been emotional but positive from Serna’s family.
Hissong said the community needs to embrace Serna’s family.
“Our guidance to everyone is that we need to embrace that family and we need to watch over them,” Hissong said. “We have expressed to that family that we want them to remain part of our community and even though the events of the day were tragic they’re still part of our community so we’re reaching out to them and trying to make sure that they feel very supported upon the return to school.”
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.