CEDARVILLE — The beginning of a new school year at Cedarville University is a benchmark event for teens moving toward adulthood. The path they travel to arrive on “Getting Started Weekend,” Friday-Sunday, Aug. 17-19, will be unique for each student in what could be another record-breaking enrollment.
But it’s doubtful any will be able to match the life-changing — and almost life-ending — journey of incoming freshman Logan Cole.
He will arrive at Cedarville, and begin moving into his residence hall on August 17 carrying more than bags and boxes. Hundreds of shotgun pellets still reside in his back and chest. The lead level in his blood sits around 29, seven times the normal range, because the pellets are leaking.
On Jan. 20, 2017, Cole was the victim of a school shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School, just north of Urbana. Suffering a shotgun blast to his chest and his back, Cole had the presence of mind to convince the shooter, classmate Ely Serna, to not carry out what could have been a horrific Columbine-style incident at their high school.
On May 2 this year, Serna was sentenced to 23 ½ years in prison for attempted murder, felonious assault, and inducing panic. In addition to shooting Cole twice, he shot through classroom doors, blowing out windows, and fired on a teacher, who was uninjured. One other student was struck by a shotgun pellet.
“I attempted to get up and walk to the stall on the other side of the bathroom away from the door,” Cole read in a prepared statement at the sentencing, recounting that day. “I made a step or two but then fell back down to the floor. The next thing I remember is facing Ely when he was in the stall. I remember begging him to put the gun down and not kill anyone, including himself.”
“What I said in the bathroom connects to how I was raised,” Cole said. “I’ve gone to church all my life, and my parents taught me how to handle situations with love and kindness. All of it is a God thing.”
Principal Greg Johnson and Assistant Principal and Dean of Students Andy McGill walked into the bathroom shortly after Cole made his plea, and Serna handed his shotgun to them.
Cole has traveled a complicated road to recovery that has included multiple surgeries, a 15-day stay at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, fractured vertebrae, broken teeth, prolonged and intense pain, terrifying nightmares, emotional scarring, three months in a neck brace and innumerable doctors’ office visits.
“Taking the pellets out wouldn’t be worth it for the damage it would cause,” he said. “It gets really complicated because some are located around my spine and you don’t know which pellets are contaminating the most. They don’t know a way to fix it.”
Kidney problems, high blood pressure, potential neurological and reproductive problems are the risks.
“The scary thing is that most of the time when people have lead exposure, they remove the exposure, but with Logan they can’t do anything,” said Cole’s mother, Julie, a 2001 Cedarville University graduate. “They would rather deal with those issues that he may have at some point than try to get the pellets out.”
For all that his family and he have been through, it’s the typical “beginning-of-college” concerns dominating their hearts and minds as Cole prepares for Getting Started.
“I’ve considered history and computer science,” he said, reviewing his options for majors. “I’ve thought about information technology management the last few days. I want to do something I’m interested in that will also help with the family business.” Cole’s father, Ryan, who also attended Cedarville, is co-owner and vice president of ColePak Inc. in Urbana, which manufactures corrugated and plastic packing partitions for business shipping needs.
Like ColePak, attending Cedarville is also a family thing.
“Mom and dad went to Cedarville; my sister attends there,” Cole said. “I was familiar with campus because I had attended soccer camps and really enjoyed it. I knew it was a good Christian college close enough to home for me to come back when I needed to. Cedarville is the college I’ve been planning on since I began thinking about it.”
Sister Leah, a mechanical engineering student at CU, is psyched to have her little brother on campus.
“I was really hoping the whole time he would choose Cedarville,” she said, who will be a resident assistant in Maddox Hall. “With everything that’s happened, I knew Cedarville was a place where I could trust the community he’d find himself in. It’s easy to find really great people to connect with.”
For parents Julie and Ryan, it’s tough to send another child off to school, even with five more still at home. But with everything that’s happened, experiencing the melancholy of missing their oldest boy is a backdoor blessing.
“From that standpoint, I’ve very much excited, but we’re going to miss having Logan around,” Ryan Cole said. “There’s a sadness that goes along with that. But with the events that took place and the possibility of losing Logan, you realize not to take things for granted. We’ll miss having him around, but we’re thankful that he’s around to do what he’s going to do.”