Ohio school shooter escaped prison with ladder made from old cabinets

T.J. Lane, convicted Ohio school shooter, escaped prison using parts of old cabinets

Convicted school shooter T.J. Lane and two other Ohio inmates fled an Ohio state prison in September using a makeshift ladder they had been building for months from old cabinets stored at the facility, prison officials revealed Friday.

In a five-page report summarizing the results of an investigation of the breach, officials at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction said the three inmates used the ladder to climb onto the roof of an administration building at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution on Sept. 11 during their evening recreation period and made the 15-foot jump from the roof to freedom, however brief.

One of the inmates, Lindsey Bruce, was caught on prison property just minutes after his escape. Police dogs led authorities to Lane a few hours later, where he was hiding about 100 yards from the prison walls. The search ended at 4:22 a.m., when authorities found the third inmate, Clifford Opperud, hiding under a boat at a private residence.

Lane was serving a life prison term at the Allen Oakwood Correctional Facility for a 2012 shooting rampage in which he killed three students and injured three. During his sentencing, Lane wore a white shirt with the word “killer” scrawled across his chest. He also cursed at and made obscene gestures toward the victim’s families.

Lane’s escape alarmed victims’ families 200 miles away in Chardon, Ohio, where Lane had carried out the attack. Local officials canceled classes for  the next day, and the incident reopened emotional wounds from the killings.

In a statement released Friday, corrections officials said the agency “takes very seriously its responsibility of operating safe and secure prisons,” and “understands … that when an inmate escapes from prison it is very traumatic for the victims.”

The incident prompted two investigations -- an internal inquiry and one led by national team of prison experts -- of what may have led to the security breach.

According to the investigations, Lane and the others were able to build their ladder by sneaking into a restricted crawl space, where the cabinets, old flashlights, and batteries had been stored, officials say. The space, just 3 feet high in some areas, was supposed to be padlocked. The inmates were able to enter it through a door on their way in and out of the recreation yard, officials said, and built the 13-foot ladder over a few months.

Although the prison’s security system was activated after the three men jumped outside the compound’s razorwire perimeter, no initial video of the breach could be seen, because one of the security cameras had been broken by a lightning strike.

Surveillance video released Friday by prison officials shows two men wearing dark clothing from a distance as they run through soybean fields just outside the prison walls. A few minutes later, the surveillance video shows authorities scrambling as they apprehend the first inmate and walk him back into the complex, his hands behind his back.

Prison officials say they’re in the process of fixing the broken security camera, have added more staff members to supervise inmates, and have made sure all perimeter lights are working.

The locks to the maintenance area have also been replaced with “higher security locks,” and inmates are no longer allowed to use the recreation yard where the escape occurred. In addition, high-security inmates have been moved out of the facility where Lane and the others were being housed.

Since the breach, all three escapees have been transferred to the Ohio State Penitentiary, the state’s highest-security facility, a department spokeswoman said.

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