It was a story that gripped the Capital Region ten years ago Sunday when 16-year-old John Romano brought a shotgun into Columbia High School, and opened fire. Time Warner Cable News is marking that day with a two-part report looking back at the shooting and discovering what's been learned in the decade since. With Part One of our story, here's Geoff Redick.
EAST GREENBUSH, N.Y. -- "It was kind of a like a loss of innocence," said Columbia High School Principal John Sawchuk.
And still, the memories are so vivid.
"Imprinted in my brain, these children crying, being escorted out," said Trisha DeAngelis, the former Rennselaer County District Attorney.
It was the morning of February 9, 2004. 16-year-old John Romano brought a shotgun to Columbia High School, and opened fire in a hallway.
Purely by chance, then-assistant principal John Sawchuk was nearby, and grabbed Romano.
"Put my arms underneath him, and was trying to talk to him as we kind of walked over this way. He was very calm at that point. And I was calling for Mike Bennett, who was coming down the hallway here," Sawchuk said.
A special education teacher, Bennett arrived in the hall just as Romano raised his gun, and fired once more.
"When the shot was fired, it went into this wall here," Sawchuk said.
Buckshot sprayed everywhere. Some of it struck Bennett in the ankle. He survived; no one else was hurt.
"And eventually, I got him to calm down a little bit, I tripped him down, took the gun way, and then brought him into this office here," Sawchuk said.
East Greenbush police officer Ernest Tubbs soon arrived, and encountered Romano.
"He was immediately handcuffed. Started going through his pockets, and he had a lot of rounds of ammunition in his pockets. They just kept coming out," Tubbs said.
Prosecutors would later say Romano was equipped to kill many people. Tubbs agrees, and says John Sawchuk acted heroically.
"The shooter's mission was to find people and to shoot them. Mr. Sawchuk engaged him in the hallway, and was able to wrestle that weapon away from him...and saved a lot of people that day," Tubbs said.
"I was trying to do what I was trained to do, kind of ran into somebody that was trying to do harm to others, and just did the best that I could," Sawchuk said.
16-year-old John Romano was charged with attempted murder, assault and reckless endangerment. His apparent manifesto was later released to the media.
"The victims were on, people were crying on the news...and the defendant was laughing," DeAngelis said.
Information later received by the Rennselaer County District Attorney's office.
The D.A. at the time, Trish DeAngelis, drew heavy criticism, for aggressively prosecuting a teenager whom some believed was mentally ill.
"Well the defendant never raised a mental illness defense in this case. There simply wasn't enough. I'm sure if there was enough, they would've raised it. But it just wasn't there," DeAngelis said.
John Romano's defense attorney, E. Stewart Jones, vehemently disagrees.
"It was not considered an acceptable excuse in 2004. Had it been, had it been looked at, had it been acted on, he wouldn't have received the punishment he received," Jones said.
Twenty years in prison, a plea deal Romano accepted, against his attorney's advice. Now ten years later, he is approximately halfway through that sentence.
February 9th, 2004 at Columbia High School was a day that no one involved in it, will ever forget.