PORTLAND Ore. (Reuters) - The academic year drew to an abrupt, somber end at the Oregon high school where a teenage gunman shot a classmate to death and took his own life, with final exams canceled and a special moment of silence planned for graduation ceremonies on Thursday.
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 of the usual joy and exhilaration heralded by senior class commencement exercises and the arrival of summer vacation, the 2,800-member student body, their parents and their teachers faced grief and bewilderment that has gripped dozens of American schools during the past several years.
One Reynolds teacher, Seth Needler, posted a Facebook message recounting the tense hour he spent with his students locked down in their class after Tuesday’s shooting.
Lamenting what he called lax firearm regulations and the proliferation of military-style weapons, Needler vowed to launch a movement demanding politicians sign a “no gun pledge” - modeled after conservatives’ “no tax pledge” - promising never to support measures that weaken gun control.
Meanwhile, 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.
Graduation was scheduled to go on as planned on Thursday evening at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a 12,000-seat arena in Portland, but a moment of silence was added to the program in memory of 14-year-old Emilio Hoffman.
He was shot to death when fellow freshman student Jared Michael Padgett, 15, walked into the boy’s locker room of the gymnasium and opened fire with a AR-15 assault-style rifle, also grazing a gym teacher, Todd Rispler, with gunfire.
Rispler managed to flee to the school’s front office to initiate the lockdown. Police converging on the school exchanged shots with Padgett and later found him dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a bathroom stall.
In addition to the rifle, Padgett was carrying a semi-automatic pistol, hundreds bullets and a large knife.
Police said Padgett, who was reported to be a member of the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program and aspired to follow his older brother into the U.S. military, had obtained the weapons from his home.
Reporting by Shelby Sebens; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Grant McCool