Reynolds HS graduates celebrate triumph over tragedy
PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Reynolds High School Raiders class of 2014 embraced the moment - the hugs, the smiles, the pictures. On graduation day, it was hard to tell their senior year came to a terrible end.
"I was told so many times today that this is our day and that's the thing that I've been saying to myself," said Cole Bronson, Reynolds High School Student Body President.
Just two days earlier, police said Jared Michael Padgett, 15, a arrived to school heavily armed, entered the boys' locker room in the building that housed the gym and murdered 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman.
Investigators said Padgett also wounded physical education teacher Todd Rispler, who managed to make his way to an office and warn administrators about the shooting. A lockdown was ordered and authorities were notified.
"This is indeed a very difficult time for everyone, but it's also a time to be happy that we have family, friends," said Linda Florence, Reynolds School District Superintendent.
Thursday's commencement ceremony took place inside the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
While some students and staff wore ribbons on their gowns in honor of Hoffman, staff worked hard to ensure the focus remained on the celebration and students' accomplishments.
"Celebrate loud, celebrate proud so all can hear," Principal Wade Bakley told the seniors. "Including Emilio."
And they did. During the student processional, the crowd roared. Seniors, 467 of them, filled the ground-floor seats, supported by a stadium full of families, friends and teachers. Together they looked like a sea of solidarity.
There seemed to be special applause for Mr. Rispler who was grazed by a bullet in the shooting.
One of the most emotional moments came when Hoffman's older brother, Joshua Mitchell, walked in to the ceremony wearing his younger brother's trademark #29 jersey over his gown.
To honor Hoffman and his loved ones, Bakley began the ceremony with a moment of silence.
"As everyone was well aware, a life was taken on our campus earlier this week," Bakley said.
However, Raiders and their supporters were determined to let their accomplishments shine.
"We all came together," Bronson said. "There was never a moment where that wasn't happening and it just made me so proud to be part of the Reynolds community and just made me proud to be where I'm at."
Reynolds' graduating seniors were determined not to let tragedy define them.
"A man's selfish decision to come into our school with weapons doesn't define Reynolds as a high school," senior Annie Croll said. "The fact that the community has risen above. That's what defines Reynolds."