“There’s a chance I wouldn’t have been able to make this journey,” Cole said. “It’s kind of humbling. It tells you not to take anything for granted.”
The 2018 freshman class at Cedarville might be the biggest in the school’s history, and Cole has a strong connection there. His mother and father both attended the school, and his sister is currently a student there.
“I was familiar with campus because I had attended soccer camps and really enjoyed it,” Cole said. “I knew it was a good Christian college close enough to home for me to come back when I needed to. Cedarville is the college I’ve been planning on since I began thinking about it.”
Cole is majoring in Information Technology Management and rooming with his best friend. He said he’s also feeling a bit nervous, like any other college freshman would be.
“I’m a little nervous, but more excited,” he said.
On Jan. 20, 2017, then-16-year-old Cole’s life changed forever when a classmate shot him in the chest at school.
The convicted shooter, Ely Serna, was 17 at the time. He managed to sneak a shotgun into the school and had just finished assembling and loading the weapon in a bathroom when Cole entered.
Serna shot Cole twice, once in the chest and once in the side. He then proceeded to exit the bathroom and open fire at doors and windows before returning to where Cole was lying.
Serna was reportedly shocked when he saw Cole blink.
“You’re still alive?” Serna asked Cole before handing the injured teen the gun and aiming it at his own temple.
Serna asked Cole to pull the trigger and kill him. Cole spared his life and refused.
“I said, ‘You don’t have to kill anybody, including yourself,’” Cole said.
Serna was sentenced in May to nearly 24 years in prison — the maximum sentence possible for his crimes. It was revealed during his sentencing that he had previously been ordered to a mental hospital in 2017 when he attempted suicide.
“Words cannot express the pain that I caused many people both emotional and physical,” Serna said before his sentencing. “I don’t live a day of my life anymore without thinking about it and wishing I could take it back. But I can’t do that and I am truly sorry for (those) who have been affected by my actions.”
Since the shooting, both Cole and the small community of West Liberty have been healing. More than 100 lead pellets are still lodged throughout Cole’s body. The amount of lead in his blood is seven times the normal amount.
“Taking the pellets out wouldn’t be worth it for the damage it would cause,” Cole said. “It gets really complicated because some are located around my spine and you don’t know which pellets are contaminating the most. They don’t know a way to fix it.”
The school, meanwhile, has a new counselor on staff to help students and has additional security measures including new entrance policies and escape windows.
West Liberty-Salem Superintendent Kraig Hissong previously told this publication that the schools and village might never be the same.
“Everybody has been left with a new sense of normal,” Hissong said.
Cole says his Christian faith has helped him stay strong over the past year.
“I just thank God for the fact that he delivered me through that situation and helped nobody else at the school get injured,” he said.