School safety is an issue on the top of parents' minds these days, with fist fights, stabbings and even shootings having plagued schools in New York just in the last two weeks.
Well, the lives of students, staff and administrators at Columbia High School were forever changed on Feb. 9, 2004, when Jon Romano walked into the East Greenbush school armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and opened fire.
One teacher was wounded, and Romano, then 16, would be convicted and spend 15 years in prison.
Eighteen years later, he spoke about the incident in public for the first time.
“I wish I had been more open," Romano said Tuesday. "Even at those last moments, I could’ve stopped myself.”
A little more than a year ago, the convicted school shooter was being held in prison.
“A lot of people may have difficulty hearing me speak," Romano said. "It may trigger some people, and I completely understand that.”
Released in December 2020, two years shy of his 17-20-year sentence, Romano shared his story at a School Safety Conference in Saratoga County.
“It’s important for me to be a part of the solution,” he told those in the crowd.
Things were different in February 2004.
“I wanted others to know of my pain, of my suffering and, unfortunately, I wanted to spread that pain and suffering to them,” he said Tuesday.
Romano said he was 4 years old when his father left his family. He said he was sexually abused while he was 5 and 6, and it all led him down a dark path.
“I became withdrawn," Romano said. "I became more insecure, more awkward. I had friends, but I always felt different. I felt alone.”
Romano said he had a supportive family and sought help, but it wasn’t enough, partly because of his inability to fully open up.
“I didn’t dive into the issue like I should have,” he said.
He said his intent was to hurt people that day, and remembered sitting in a bathroom for 45 minutes, texting friends in nearby classrooms before opening fire in a hallway.
“My mom asked me, why didn’t I text her? Why didn’t I call her?” Romano said.
Fortunately, Romano was subdued quickly by an assistant principal, but a teacher was wounded during the incident.
School resources officers from across the state listened intently to Romano’s story.
“Way too many times, we let that one kid fall through the crack and we don’t know how to reach out to them,” said Saratoga County Sheriff's Deputy Kenneth Cooper, who oversees several school resource officers across the county.
He encouraged Romano to share his story.
“You’re not trapped," Romano said. "There is a way out. Change is possible.”