The teen who pleaded guilty to opening fire at West Liberty-Salem High School last year was sentenced Wednesday to 23.5 years in prison.
Ely Serna, 18, pleaded guilty to attempted murder, felonious assault and inducing panic last month. Champaign County Common Pleas Court Judge Nick Selvaggio gave Serna the maximum sentence during a hearing at the Champaign County Courthouse.
“Words cannot express the pain that I caused many people both emotional and physical,” Serna said before his sentencing. “I don’t live a day of my life anymore without thinking about it and wishing I could take it back. But I can’t do that and I am truly sorry for (those) who have been affected by my actions.”
Serna was a 17-year-old senior in high school when he brought a shotgun to school on Jan. 20, 2017 and shot fellow student Logan Cole twice in a bathroom, according to police. He then fired on a teacher who walked into the bathroom, but he missed, police said. Serna continued into the hallway, where he opened fire toward classrooms.
He then returned to the bathroom, found Cole still alive, had a conversation with him and stopped shooting, police said. He was later tackled and apprehended by school staff.
Cole, who has recovered from the shooting but is still suffering high lead levels that could cause future health issues, told Serna during his victim statement that he forgave him but still wanted justice.
“In my opinion, justice for someone … who succeeds in taking the innocence from so many should be severer. It is for this reason I am asking the court to sentence Ely to the maximum of 23 and a half years,” Cole said.
“I believe the consequences of your action should be proportionate. In many ways, even if you serve the full sentence possible, it will not compare to the damage that was done to so many lives on Jan. 20.
“I would like you to know that I have forgiven you for what you did to me and our school. I also want you to know there is a difference between forgiveness and justice.”
Defense Attorney Dennis Lieberman asked the judge to take into account that Serna suffers from depression and anxiety, calling the disorders a mental illness.
New details were revealed during the sentencing, including that Serna allegedly took a prescription drug Vyvanse in the week before the shooting, that he failed a school drug test that could have stopped him from competing in wrestling competitions and that between the ages of 9 and 15 Serna allegedly abused animals.
During one of his evaluations, Serna disclosed he used rocks and 2-by-4 pieces of wood to beat animals, Selvaggio said. He also allegedly said that he had shot a cat previously.
Serna was charged with more than 10 felonies and was set to go trial before making the plea deal last month. Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said his office made the deal with Serna because it was fair.
“The charges which the defendant pled guilty to hold him accountable for his conduct on Jan. 20,” Talebi said.
The prosecutor had asked the judge to give Serna the maximum sentence. It was a tough case overall, Talebi said.
“This case was tragic,” Talebi said. “There are no winners or losers today. I am hoping for the closure of this case (and that) the community will be able to continue to heal.”
The Cole family said after the hearing they wanted to thank the Champaign County Prosecutor’s Office, the sheriff’s office, West Liberty-Salem staff and their families.
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