Assistant football coach Frank Hall did what anybody who knows him would have expected him to do when gunfire suddenly erupted in the Chardon High School cafeteria on Monday morning.
Hall ran straight into the most mortal danger, all 350 righteous pounds of him, fearless and selfless in his faith in the Almighty and in his devotion to the kids. He pursued the 17-year-old gunman from the cafeteria.
“The kid turned and took a couple shots at him,” reports fellow assistant football coach Don Navatsyk, adding of Hall, “I think he ducked behind a vending machine.”
Hall could have just stayed behind cover, but then he would not have been Frank Hall. The 38-year-old remained magnificently himself until he had chased the gunman out of the building.
Back in the cafeteria, a 17-year-old and two 16-year-olds lay mortally wounded around the table where they had been sitting when T.J. Lane pulled a .22 caliber pistol from a bag and walked up behind them. Lane had wounded two other students, one of whom was pulled to the safety of a classroom by a brave teacher named Joseph Ricci. The gunman may very well have shot more innocents had Hall not kept after him. Hall’s lone comment afterward was precisely in character.
“I wish I could have done more.”
His courage was extraordinary, but he was the most likely of heroes, for his actions were exactly in keeping with the rest of his life. Locals who speak of his bravery on Monday also recall that he had been a star lineman in his own high school years, known even then for his decency and dedication.
“A gentleman,” says retired football coach Wayne Lomas of the teenage Hall.
Hall married a social worker and they adopted four boys who were described as “high risk” when the couple took them in. The boys are now themselves known as gentlemen and all around “great kids.”
Meanwhile, the former lineman became offense coordinator at Chardon High School, a calling that in itself was an act of devotion. Fellow assistant coach Navatsyk says, “High school, it’s a mission. Guys aren’t making a lot of money.”
As a coach Hall proved to have what Navatsyk terms “the It factor,” the ability to walk into a room and command everybody’s total attention just by being there. He was as much of a disciplinarian as was required, but he knew that a high-school coach needs to inspire and encourage, not to dominate and disparage.
Hall also was certified as a social-studies teacher, but there were no positions open, and he served as a study-hall and a cafeteria monitor. He was a memorable teacher nonetheless, simply by providing himself as an example in how to comport yourself.
“The athletes love him and the nonathletes love him,” Navatsyk says.
He was on duty in the cafeteria at 7:38 a.m. on Monday, and when the shooting started, he offered a lesson of goodness in the face of evil that nobody will ever forget.
“He put his life on the line,” Navatsyk says.
As a legacy of the massacres at Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007, Chardon had regular drills where students learned to turn off the classroom lights and stand against the wall. Such rehearsals always struck the kids as half a joke and made it no less of a total shock when they found themselves fleeing for their lives from a real gunman with real bullets.
What did not shock them was how Hall responded. Among the kids who saw Hall running in the other direction as she ran away from the gunman was the cheerleader granddaughter of Wayne Lomas, the retired coach who had admired the gentleman linebacker years before. Lomas has no doubt about what propelled the adult Hall toward gunfire.
“He treats the kids like his own,” Loma says.
Thanks to Hall, the arriving police knew right away where the gunman was not. Rather than being detoured by having to search classroom by classroom, they set about tracking him down and soon had him in custody. Lane is said to have told them that he did not know any of his victims, though he regularly rode the bus with the three at the table and listed at least one of them as a Facebook friend. A student told police that one of the dead had dated Lane’s former girlfriend.
In this town of 5,000, Navatsyk and many others know and like the teenage Lane’s maternal grandparents, who had been raising him since he was 5. Navatsyk says, “They’re just good people trying to do the right thing raising this kid when his parents weren’t around.”
Court records show that the gunman’s mother and father had a history of domestic violence before their divorce. The father was subsequently charged with subjecting his new wife to some down-home waterboarding, nearly drowning her, then smashing her head against a wall.
In an effort to discern sense behind senseless slaughter, some people spoke of the gunman having been bullied, but it may be no more true than when it mistakenly was said about the killers at Columbine and Virginia Tech.
What is clear is the origin of Hall’s courage. He is a profoundly decent man who places the kids before himself. He is not just going through the motions when he holds Thursday meetings of Chardon’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He is as heartfelt and genuine at these gatherings as he is at the Friday preseason workouts.
When this Monday came, his response was consistent with those Thursday and Friday gatherings, as well as with every other day of his week. He is now known in town for what is no real surprise, given that he is Frank Hall.
“He will always be viewed as a hero in Chardon, Ohio,” Navatsyk says.