CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Now in his 30s, Jon Romano is opening up about his state of mind during the February 2004 school shooting that injured a Columbia High School teacher and sent him to prison as a teen. He told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker he hopes his story will change the way we deal with mental illness.
“I feel like I’ve grown. I feel like I’ve changed. But that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t undo what I’ve done,” said Romano in a YouTube video he posted and shared with Anya. The video is a gripping, and at times intense look back at his depression and sense of despair at the time of the shooting, as well as an expression of regret for what he did.
In 2004, Romano was 16 years old when he walked into Columbia High School in East Greenbush with a shotgun. “I wanted nothing more than to go home. When I was there, I just wanted to go home, and I wanted things to be different. But I didn’t believe that things would be different. I believed that my life would go on feeling meaningless,” he explained. Romano says his true aim at the time was never to hurt anyone but himself, saying he was hoping responding officers might turn their weapons on him.
The video is the first time we hear from Romano as he opens a window into the mind of a school shooter, going through the details of that horrific day. He talks about waiting in a bathroom with the shotgun and feeling numb. He says he encountered shocked students who ran off as they saw the weapon while he walked down a school hallway and into a classroom. “And I looked into this classroom full of kids and they are all on the floor, hiding behind their desks. Hiding from me.” He said a teacher was also hiding under a table. “She sees me and she’s under the table and she yells out, ‘Oh Lord,'” recalled Romano visibly and deeply disturbed by his own actions, his head hanging low during the portion of the video.
In the recording posted online, he goes on to explain that he never intended to hurt anyone, even as he fired two shots. “With the gun at my waist, I fired two shots up above the students’ heads to scare them off. And they run, and they run, and they run,” he says before lowering his head once again, crying.
A teacher was shot and injured when the school’s vice principal and Romano struggled over the weapon. He says in the video that he never meant to hurt anyone. He admits his finger was on the trigger, but that the weapon accidentally fired during the fight over the shotgun. Moments later he was taken into police custody.
Romano, who was released from prison in 2020, says he shared the video, not as someone who wishes to be absolved of his crime, but to be a force for good. Speaking out to prevent another school shooting from happening. “We learned the warning signs of when you’re getting a cold or the flu. But we aren’t taught the warning signs of when you might be entering into more than just a rough time, but a depression,” he told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker during a Zoom interview.
After serving his prison term, he gave talks to law enforcement, helping them better recognize the warning signs. Romano himself was also the victim of a violent attack while trying to do good by feeding the homeless at a shelter in Albany. He says he forgives the man accused of nearly amputating his arms and legs with swords. Albany Police say the alleged attack was not motivated by the 2004 shooting.
He says he is now getting around with a walker, while facing more surgeries. But he says with the support of his family he looks forward to a future helping others, possibly speaking at schools or to law enforcement, and to anyone who will listen. He ended by saying there is hope for those who are suffering, and he wishes to create positive change when it comes to dealing with mental health issues with young people.
Have thoughts of hurting yourself? There’s help. Call: https://988lifeline.org/