Jon Romano: School shooter criticised for TikTok account - but he insists he wants to help prevent tragedies

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Jon Romano was just 16-years-old when he took a shotgun in to his school in the United States in 2004

A man who opened fire in his high school in the United States almost 20 years ago is causing controversy by speaking out about the incident and also talking about gun crime prevention on his TikTok account. Jon Romano was 16-years-old in 2004 when he went into his school in New York with a gun and fired it at his peers and teachers.

There were no fatalities during the incident, which took place in Columbia High School in 2004, but one teacher was injured. Now, aged 35, Romano has served his 17 year prison sentence for his crime and has returned to normal life.

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Social media is an everyday part of modern life, and so Romano has set up a TikTok account, called ‘Jon Seeking Peace’, where he discusses the crime he committed, his time in prison, what he has done since he was released almost three years ago, and also what he hopes to achieve in the future. The account has received a huge following, with 245,900 followers at the time of writing, but there are some who do not believe that Romano should be given a platform to speak due to his involvement in gun crime.

Questions have also been raised about whether or not Romano, who said he is sorry to those he caused pain too but wants to “prevent others from experiencing that pain as well”, is the right person to spread an anti-gun and anti-violence message. So, just who is Romano, what did he do in 2004, what is he doing now and what has been said about it? Here’s what you need to know.

Who is Jon Romano?

Jon Romano is now a 35-year-old American man, who has become an advocate for mental health and crime prevention. He has also become something of a social media personality. He works to support people within the community, and is now known for surviving being stabbed with a sword while he was working at a homeless shelter in September. Back in 2004, however, he gained infamy as a school shooter.  He served time for attempted murder and reckless endangerment before being released in December 2020,  according to records from New York state

Jon Romano, who fired a shotgun in his United States school in 2004, but has now served his time in prison and speaks out about mental health awareness and crime prevention, including on social media platforms like TikTok. Photo by TikTok/Jon Romano.Jon Romano, who fired a shotgun in his United States school in 2004, but has now served his time in prison and speaks out about mental health awareness and crime prevention, including on social media platforms like TikTok. Photo by TikTok/Jon Romano.
Jon Romano, who fired a shotgun in his United States school in 2004, but has now served his time in prison and speaks out about mental health awareness and crime prevention, including on social media platforms like TikTok. Photo by TikTok/Jon Romano. | Photo by TikTok/Jon Romano.

What did Jon Romano do in 2004?

On 9 February 2004, when Romano was 16 he did what he now describes as “the unthinkable” and walked into his high school with a shotgun. In a TikTok video discussing the incident Romano said: “My intentions that day were not what we see too often with these tragedies on the news. I was not there to kill but to be killed. I could have stayed at home and ended my own life, and sometimes I still wish I had but I was afraid.”

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He went on to talk about how he was suffering with his mental health at the time and believed that he was “alone in his suffering”, which he wanted others to see. He added that he was unaware at that time how “prevalent” depression and mental illness is. He admitted that he knew he’d be causing others to suffer psychologically as a result of his actions, and that he would be “spreading the suffering” that he felt.

Describing the day, he said: “When I went in to the hallway there was (sic) a couple of students. One was right in front of me and he ran for his life. I still see him every day. I turned around a corner and I seen (sic) two more students so I fired off two more rounds into the ceiling and scared them away.”

He went on to explain that he went into a classroom because he “didn’t want to be alone”, but when he did he saw “the fear and the terror in their eyes”. He then detailed how the teacher came to be injured in the incident when they tried to aid the Vice Principal of the school, who had grabbed him from behind and tried to take the gun from him. He said: “We started to struggle and during the struggle my finger was on the trigger and the gun went off. I didn’t know that there was a teacher coming up behind us. I didn’t even know I had shot somebody. He was hit in the leg.”

What is Jon Romano doing now?

Romano is now a public speaker who discusses the topics of mental health and crime prevention. He speaks about the importance of having good mental health and also works with law enforcement and school authorities to try to help them prevent any more incidents of crime and violence in schools.

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In the above mentioned video, he spoke about his life post-prison and how he hopes to help prevent other school shootings from happening. He said: “I did my best to turn my life around and I did my best to work on my mental health and I began to speak out when I saw these terrible tragedies happening because I knew that I had to be a part of the change. I believe we can stop these terrible tragedies from happening.”

What have people said about Jon Romano’s TikTok account?

Romano has received criticism from fellow TikTok users about his videos, with many saying that he should not be on the platform at all. One user, You Can Call Me Kait, addressed her concerns in a video she captioned: “I don’t believe for a second that you actually want to help. You just want attention.” In the video, she again addressed Romano directly and said: “You ruined people’s lives that day. There are people who are never going to feel safe again because of you.”

She also revealed that she had chosen to teach in a private school rather than a public school because of “gun violence”. She went on to advise Romano to speak privately to psychologists and school counsellors “so they know what to look for” if he really wants to help find a solution. She ended her video by accusing Romano of being “evil” and a “narcissist.” 

Romano, who has turned off the comments on his TikTok page as a result of the backlash he has received, spoke to Newsweek about the online criticism: “Despite the current backlash I am receiving, which I completely understand, I also continue to get a lot of people reaching out to me thanking me for what I do. Some of those same parents, teachers and even students who are frustrated with the lack of change, believe I can help save lives.”

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He added: “I can never undo what I have done, the pain and trauma that I have caused upon so many, but I am working towards preventing others from experiencing that same pain and suffering,” he added. In a TikTok video, he also said: “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I don’t want people to forgive me - I don’t care about any of that. What I want is for change. What I want is for people to realise that if we take mental health more seriously that is just one step of many that can make drastic changes - not only stopping these tragedies but also stopping suicides.”

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