By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A fund set up to aid victims of the February 27 attack on students in Chardon, Ohio has swelled to $500,000 in the three weeks since the rampage, the deadliest U.S. high school shooting in six years.
In the first few days after the fund was established, a handful of local businesses and some anonymous donors quickly gifted $150,000 to benefit victims and family members, officials said.
Since then, smaller donations from students and other individuals and organizations have poured in, more than tripling the fund's size, they said.
Colleen Lear, owner of Beans Coffee Shop in Chardon, said the shooting had galvanized the people of Chardon to do whatever they could to help the families and victims.
"It's just an instinct to help others," Lear said. "Everyone knows everyone here and we all wanted to do whatever it was we needed to do."
Residents of the tight-knit small town, located east of Cleveland, are still struggling to understand why the 17-year-old suspect brought a .22-caliber pistol into the high school cafeteria that Monday morning and fired 10 rounds, killing three teens and injuring two others.
The toll was the worst in a high school shooting since a truck driver killed five schoolgirls and wounded six in October 2006 at an Amish school in Pennsylvania.
In addition to the $500,000 collected by the United Way's Chardon Healing Fund, the high school's baseball team was invited to practice at Progressive Field, the home the Cleveland Indians, and basketball's Cleveland Cavaliers donated 4,000 tickets to Chardon students, faculty and family members.
On Monday, 30 local chefs, including a James Beard Foundation Award nominee, will host dinners at two restaurants with the proceeds going to the Chardon fund.
The suspected gunman, T.J. Lane, was arrested after being chased out of the cafeteria by a teacher. He later confessed to authorities that he was shooting randomly, according to prosecutors.
He has been charged as a juvenile with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of felonious assault.
Lane's next scheduled court hearing is on April 3, when the judge will determine whether he should be tried as an adult.
Under Ohio law, if Geauga County Prosecutor David Joyce can show probable cause that Lane committed the crimes he is charged with, the teen's case will automatically move to adult court. Lane could face up to life in prison without parole.
(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Paul Thomasch)