SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The man who spent over 15 years in prison after firing a shotgun in Columbia High School as a student in 2004 spoke publicly about his experience at a school safety training conference in Saratoga Springs. Law enforcement is utilizing his voice as a tool to prevent future school shootings.

Jon Romano took aim at students and teachers in East Greenbush about 18 years ago. He fired off three shots and hit a special education teacher in the leg before he was tackled by the assistant principal.

“I opened up to very few people about very few things, and they were not people in positions of authority,” Romano said at a podium in a Saratoga Casino and Hotel conference room Tuesday morning. He spoke at a conference of the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Sheriffs’ Association Committee on Policing and Safeguarding Schools about the struggles he experienced with mental health and depression leading up to the shooting.

Deputy Ken Cooper, in charge of the Community Outreach and Youth Services Unit for the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department, asked Romano to speak in the hopes it will help officers and educators better identify students who are struggling before they act out, and encourage young people to speak up.

“Way too many times we let that one kid get through the crack, and we don’t know how to reach out to them,” Cooper told reporters after Romano’s panel with conference attendees. “By Jon speaking, hopefully, there’s a kid watching the news tonight that says, ‘You know what? I can get help.’”

“If we can have them opening up and getting rid of any toxicity that might be building up within them, hopefully, nobody will even come close to doing anything that I’ve done,” Romano told reporters.

Romano, who was released from prison in December 2020, served almost 15 years of his 20-year sentence for attempted murder and reckless endangerment. “It’s been a long time, and yet, my actions that day still have an effect on many people. Every time there’s another shooting, a lot of my victims immediately think of me,” he said. “They immediately think of what I did to them.”

Romano said while his speaking out could be triggering to victims or people impacted by his crime, he and Cooper agreed the potential positive impact of his insight outweighs that. Cooper is hoping Romano will become more comfortable speaking about his experiences and can talk to students in local school districts in the future. “If I believed that I was hurting more people by speaking out than I am helping, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.