Sister of alleged West Liberty shooter speaks, school to re-open

The older sister of the alleged West Liberty-Salem High School shooter said she was shocked when she learned that her brother had been accused of hurting other students.

Ely Serna, 17, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder in connection with a Friday morning school shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School. A judge ruled Monday during his first appearance in Champaign County Family Court that he would remain in detention while awaiting a decision on whether to try him as an adult.

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He’s accused of shooting 16-year-old Logan Cole multiple times with a shotgun. Another student was also struck by a pellet and he sustained minor injuries, according to the school.

“I never looked at Ely as somebody who would do something like this,” Paige Serna said. “He was always the type to check in on me to make sure I was doing OK. I know he loved his animals.”

Ely Serna has a lot of friends and works out a lot, his sister said.

“This is very out of the ordinary for anyone, not just Ely … but especially for my brother,” she said. “I can’t put it together.”

Her brother has been a wrestler and football player and sustained sports-related head injuries and she wondered if that might have played a role in his alleged actions. Paige Serna hasn’t had any contact with him since Friday.

“I honestly have no idea what his motive was or what his goal was behind any of this,” she said.

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Ely Serna’s attorney, Michael Pentecost, said he couldn’t talk about a motive behind the shooting at this time or his client’s mental condition.

“This has been a traumatic situation for all involved,” he said.

Ely Serna faces multiple charges, including two counts of attempted murder, three counts of felonious assault and six counts of improperly discharging a firearm at or into a school safety zone. He’s being held at a juvenile detention facility in Marysville.

Pentecost said he expects a probable cause hearing to be held soon and if the judge does find enough cause, there will be hearings to determine whether he should be tried as an adult. Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi said in a statement he plans to ask the court to move the case to adult court. He and Champaign County Sheriff Matt Melvin declined comment on Monday.

Going back to school

The events of Friday could have been much worse if it wasn’t for quick acting staff members and students knowing what to do in case of an emergency, parent Shannon McClintick said.

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“I can’t even express how thankful I am,” McClintick said. “I’ve spoke to everybody that had their hands on my kids that day, I’ve told them thank you … I told them thank you seems so small.”

The school is expected to re-open today on a one-hour delay and have counselors and law enforcement presence to give students support. Parents of West Liberty-Salem students said sending their students back to school will be difficult.

Ryan Ray, the father of a freshman and senior at the school, said his kids and their friends have expressed concerns.

“They are flat-out scared and paranoid going back to school,” Ray said. “The what if it happened once, can it happen again?”

The staff members and administration at West Liberty-Salem have worked hard to make sure the school is safe, Ray said, and that only time and God can help heal scars left by the shooting.

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“Walking through those doors is not something they can even imagine until they actually do it,” Ray said.

Liz Cheetham, the mother of five including two in high school, said her children are also scared.

“The last few days we had a little bit of recovering from the incident and dealing with it. They are all still a little bit (worried),” she said.

It will however be good for them to get back in the routine of going back to school, Cheetham said.

“I know as a parent I am ready for them to go back,” she said. “I think it will be good for them to get back.”

Thanking the community 

Superintendent Kraig Hissong held a news conference Monday afternoon to thank the community for their continued support.

“This support means so much to our school staff and to our students,” he said.

School districts across Champaign and Clark counties and beyond showed support for West Liberty-Salem throughout the weekend. Triad High School’s student section wore WLS colors during a basketball game this weekend, while many school districts including Graham Local and Urbana City schools had students wear the district’s orange colors Monday at school.

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The district is looking at the re-opening of the school as de facto start of a new school year, Hissong said. The staff members met Monday to train on helping students upon their return.

“It is our goal to make (Tuesday) a day of healing in our district,” he said.

Cole was originally in critical but stable condition, according to his father, Ryan Cole. He said his son has since been moved out of the intensive care unit.

“Through God’s hand, Logan Cole’s condition continues to improve,” Hissong said. “He still has much healing to do, and our hearts, thoughts and prayer should remain with him and his family for the days to come.”

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The superintendent declined to identify the second student who was shot. He said however that his injuries are minor and that the male student didn’t know he had been hit with a pellet until Friday evening.

Staff Writers Katherine Collins and Natalie Jovonovich contributed to this report.

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