It’s impossible for the small village of West Liberty to go back to the way it was before a school shooting that rocked the community.
That’s what Logan Cole said in his victim impact statement during the Wednesday sentencing hearing Ely Serna, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the shooting incident at West Liberty-Salem High School in January 2017.
“Just as this has mentally affected me, it has also mentally affected hundreds of other students,” Cole said. “It seems like the school’s guidance counselors are constantly busy helping students who are still struggling. In addition to this, I know many people personally who are still struggling daily with emotional effects of Jan. 20.”
The shooting had large consequences, Cole said. Students barricaded themselves in classrooms or ran away from the school, fearing that fellow students and teachers were being killed behind them, he said.
“That kind of trauma sticks with people,” Cole said.
Serna, 18, was sentenced by Champaign County Common Pleas Judge Nick Selvaggio to 23.5 years. It’s the maximum sentence Serna faced after pleading guilty to attempted murder, felonious assault and inducing panic as part of an agreement that saw 10 other felonies against him dismissed.
The wide impact of the shooting was a theme throughout the sentencing. Nancy Schultz, whose son was struck with a pellet during the shooting, said many people were harmed during the shooting, including every student, teacher, parent and community member. Even people who don’t live in town anymore were impacted by the shooting, she said.
“The West Liberty-Salem Local School District would like to extend our appreciation to Prosecutor Kevin Talebi, Defense Attorney Lieberman, and to Judge Selvaggio for their efforts to conduct a thorough, detailed, and orderly sentencing hearing that provided the upmost respect to all involved parties,” West Liberty-Salem Kraig Hissong said in a statement.
“The hearing provided closure to the shooting that occurred on January 20, 2017. We would like to extend our thoughts to the many students, staff, and community members who were victims of this event and to Ely Serna and his family. We hope that the sentencing can bring closure to this event and aide in the healing process for all those involved.”
The shooting affected not just at West Liberty-Salem but schools around the area, which have increased safety precautions in response. In Urbana, officials took extra time to make sure hallways were designed to allow students to quickly exit the building, and in Triad officials were sure to include egress windows when purchasing new ones for their schools.
The entire area will never be the same again, Cole said.
“I feel like my sister Leah very eloquently summed much of what I feel was taken by Ely that day,” Cole said. “She wrote, ‘Never again will the men’s bathroom in the high school wing of West Liberty-Salem be free of the pellet holes that once went through the body of an unsuspecting, defenseless human being. Never again will the right chest and mid-back of my brother be free of the fist-sized scars that stretch across them. Never again will you be able to Google search West Liberty Salem without having it auto-fill “shooting.” Never again will our family and our community regain the innocence that we once had,’” Cole said.
During his victim statement, he told Serna that he has forgiven him and he hopes he finds Jesus.
“I would like you to know though that I have forgiven you for what you did to me and to our school. I also want you to know that I believe there is a difference between forgiveness and justice,” Cole said. “The reason I can show you forgiveness is because Christ first showed forgiveness to me. My hope and prayer for you is that you also come to know him as your savior.”
Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said the case is tragic, but the area will be able to move forward.
“We have assets in terms of people that are living here in Champaign County that can’t be reproduced anywhere else,” Talebi said. “So the community will move on, and we’ll heal, and we’ll learn, and we’ll remember.”
Closing the case will help her family move forward, said Julie Cole, Logan’s mother.
“It’s been a hard last 16 months and with everybody there to make it go as well as it possibly could,” she said. “We just appreciated everybody and want to tell them that as we’re kind of getting to this end of it, thankfully.”
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