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Grief, resolve marks Oregon high school graduation ceremony after fatal shooting

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - Two days after a teenaged gunman shot dead a classmate and took his own life, a Oregon high school held a graduation ceremony marked by grief, bewilderment and vows to move forward.

Tuesday's shooting, the third outburst of gun violence to shake a U.S. high school or college campus in less than three weeks, unfolded on what was supposed to be the second-to-last day of classes at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, a suburb of Portland.

Instead, school officials canceled the last day of classes on Wednesday, along with final exams, and arranged for grief counselors to be made available for students.

The disruption continued at a senior class commencement ceremony on Thursday evening, with nearly 500 students, as well as parents and teachers battling mixed emotions: the joy of graduation and the lasting mark of tragedy.

The crowd observed a moment of silence in memory of 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman, who was killed, and later erupted in cheers and applause for Todd Rispler, the school gym teacher who was grazed by gunfire but fought to initiate the school lockdown, which police said likely saved lives.

"It's very important that you as graduates realize that this is your night. I also hope that you remember the one, who like you, will never walk the halls of Reynolds High School again, but for a different reason," Principal Wade Bakley said in an address after the moment of silence.

"Celebrate loud so everyone can hear you, including Emilio," he said.

Hoffman was shot to death when fellow freshman student Jared Michael Padgett, 15, walked into the boys' locker room of the gymnasium and opened fire with a AR-15 assault-style rifle, also grazing Rispler.

Police converging on the school exchanged shots with Padgett and later found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a bathroom stall.

Thursday's commencement was in many ways similar to other graduation ceremonies across the nation. Balloons were tied to a fence outside the Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum and students donned caps and gowns that matched the school colors - white for girls and green for boys.

Student Cole Bronson, wearing his cap and gown, looked for a way forward in brief remarks to reporters assembled outside the arena.

"We are down, not out," he said. Tonight is our night, class of 2014."

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Writing by Steve Gorman and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Grant McCool and Matt Driskill)

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