CHARDON, Ohio (AP) — One day after the teen gunman at their northeast Ohio school pleaded guilty, students at Chardon High School marked the anniversary of the deaths of three classmates Wednesday with hugs and messages of support from the close-knit community.
"They always need to remember that we're there for each other and if anyone is down, there is a strong community to fall back on," senior Adam Benjamin said before heading to classes at the school east of Cleveland.
The school organized the observance to remember Daniel Parmertor and Demetrius Hewlin, both 16, and Russell King Jr., 17, who were killed in the Feb. 27, 2012, rampage.
T.J. Lane, 18, on Tuesday withdrew a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and pleaded guilty to charges in the case. He could get life in prison when he is sentenced March 19.
Prosecutors say Lane took a .22-caliber pistol and a knife to the school and fired 10 shots at students in the high school cafeteria. Lane was there waiting for a bus to an alternative school he attended.
Lane pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted aggravated murder and one count of felonious assault. Charged as an adult, Lane cannot get the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the crimes.
"We're just very glad it's not going to trial," said Daniel's father, Bob Parmertor, as he left the courthouse in the rain with family members.
Parmertor told The Associated Press he felt justice would be done if Lane "will never see daylight again" outside prison.
The anniversary of the students' deaths marks another year of mass shootings around the country — 12 people gunned down at a Colorado movie theater; six killed at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin; and 26 Connecticut first-graders and educators slain in Newtown during the Christmas season.
The Chardon principal, Andy Fetchik, said the school was ready to offer support to students upset by the anniversary.
"I've given my share of hugs in the last year and I've got plenty more," he said before a daylong series of service activities began.
"I think the message is to keep going, never quit and be thankful for what you have."
Students arriving for classes in a cold, light rain passed an outdoor school sign with the names of the victims and the message, "2-27 A Day of Remembrance."
Across the street, a heart-shaped sign in the school colors of red and black had the message, "One Heartbeat."
The school, off-limits to the media for the day, also planned a midday memorial walk to the community's picturesque town square, with a gazebo and log cabin for making maple syrup.
Geauga County Prosecutor James Flaiz said the plea resulted in the same outcome he wanted from a trial. Families of the victims agreed that Lane should face life in prison, he said. Two wounded survivors and parents of most of the victims watched the court proceeding.
But left unanswered was the motive. Flaiz said he was prepared to present a motive at trial but he declined to elaborate on it Tuesday. He said a psychiatric evaluation showed Lane has above-average intelligence and was able to understand the case against him and assist his attorneys in his defense.
Lane appeared in court dressed in a green open-collar shirt and dark slacks. His once-shaggy hair was cut short. He held up his head and displayed no emotion as he answered the judge's questions with "yes, your honor."
Lane's grandmother, weeping quietly, sat arm's length from Nick Walczak, who was rolled into court in a wheelchair. Walczak, who was crippled in the attack, shifted his eyes to Lane as the attempted aggravated murder charge detailing his case was read by the judge.
Lane's family left the court with deputies and sent word through Lane's attorneys that they didn't want to talk to the media.
After court, Lane's attorney said his client was determined to take responsibility.
"T.J.'s plea of guilty is a complete admission to each and every element of each and every charge, every crime," defense attorney Ian Friedman said. "It is hoped that the decision will bring closure to what has been a tragic year for the victims, their families and loved ones, T.J.'s family and the entire community both near and far."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.