Former gunman Jon Romano opened fire at Columbia High School 14 years ago this month when he was 16-years-old. Fortunately, there were no fatalities in the shooting that took place in the East Greenbush school.
Now, Romano is making a plea for reducing gun violence. He penned a letter from Coxsackie Correctional Facility in response to an article in the Times Union about the former school principal that put an end to his shooting spree.
On February 9, 2004, Columbia High School students found themselves running for cover when shots rang out around 10:30 AM. Unlike the Parkland, Florida, school shooter Nikolas Cruz, Romano did not have am AR-15 assault-style firearm.
Instead, he fired two rounds from a pump-action shotgun and was disarmed by Columbia High's principal John Sawchuk before anyone could get seriously hurt. As he was tackled by Sawchuk, the teen managed to shoot a third round, striking a teacher in the leg.
If Romano had access to the same rifle Cruz brandished that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the consequences would've been more devastating.
Romano was seven months shy of legally obtaining an AR-15 when the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act expired.
"I think a lot of people would have been dead," Sawchuk told Chris Churchill in the Albany paper. "I didn't think it would ever happen in our school," he said, referring to mass shootings plaguing the country. "Even when it was happening, I didn't think it was happening. I thought it was an explosion in the gym."
Romano wrote Times Union Executive Editor Rex Smith a hand-written letter, calling the retired principal a "hero who I owe my life to."
I know whenever another horrible shooting happens, he and all of my victims are hurt all over again from what I did to them. I want to take away their pain but knowing that I cannot, I want to prevent others from experiencing this pain.
He also praised the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas for calling on politicians to refuse donations from the National Rifle Association.
I believe the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are courageous and inspiring for demanding action from politicians. Everyone nationwide should accept nothing less than meaningful, life-saving policy changes from their politicians.
Only then could this generation be the last generation that lives in a nation plagued by gun violence.
Romano will be eligible for parole in March, 2021, and he's already made plans for his time outside of prison.
I have taken the steps toward this that I can do from prison, and I intend to advocate for gun safety and mental health reform after my release in 2021.
There were mixed responses to his letter.
While others saw hope.
The system is called into question on how it handles criminals.
Are there enough voices to enact change? Time will tell.