A Gloomy Graduation Day

The mother of shooting victim Randy Gordon, Mari Gordon-Rayborn, right, is escorted off the stage by Santana High School principal Karen Degischer after Gordon-Rayborn accepted her son's diploma at what would have been Randy's graduation ceremony at the school's stadium Thursday, June 14, 2001, in Santee, Calif. The school was the scene of a shooting that killed Randy and one other earlier in the year.
The memory of slain classmates hovered over the graduation ceremony for students at Santana High School, the site of a deadly shooting rampage during the school year.

The mother of Randy Gordon, one of the two students who died in the violence, walked onto the stage Thursday in a graduation gown and accepted the diploma he was to have received.

As Gordon's name was called first, several doves were released into the air and the crowd of students and families stood applauding. His mother, Mari Gordon-Rayborn, exchanged long hugs with school Principal Karen Degischer and others.

In recalling the March shooting, which also killed freshman Bryan Zuckor, Degischer expressed gratitude to "those of you who gave of yourselves to save lives and comfort others this spring.

She said the attack had resulted in the school community growing together "in one heart."

"Randy and Bryan will always remain in that heart," she said.

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The March 5 shooting, which also wounded 13 people, allegedly was carried out by a 15-year-old freshman, Charles Andrew "Andy" Williams.

Gordon, 17, died after he was shot in the back. A distance runner on the school track team, he had planned to join the military after graduating.

Zuckor, a 14-year-old freshman, was a comic daredevil who dreamed of becoming a stunt man or a doctor, according to his friends and family.

In speaking during Thursday's ceremony, valedictorian Aemon Cannon remembered that Santana High's students had seen "two sparrows fall."

As time goes on, he said, it is his hope that the community's pain "will not turn our heads from the stars."

"The class of 2001 has not and will never be ruled by hate," he said.

More than 370 seniors wearing robes in the school's purple and white colors marched onto the lush green football field to the rhythm of "Pomp and Circumstance" on a picture-perfect afternoon

Parents smiled and waved to their children and recorded the event with video cameras. Nearby, the large satellite dishes of television crews popped up over the crowd.

Security was tight, with seniors being patted down before entering the field. Authorities said the step was taken every year to keep seniors from carrying beac balls, water guns, alcohol or other disruptive items into the ceremony.

As a precautionary measure, however, the school district called in extra sheriff's deputies, said Jim Esterbrooks, a county education department spokesman.

Near the graduation stage, several photographs taken as part of a senior project were displayed, representing hope for the future and the "healing" that took place after the assault.

Outside the campus, community members held up signs reading "Seek tolerance, not hate," and "God loves everybody." Ten protesters from Kansas also held signs that said the acceptance of gays in public schools created moral problems that led to the shooting.

The attack was the nation's deadliest high school shooting since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, which left 15 dead.

Williams, who was arrested in the school bathroom where he allegedly opened fire, has pleaded innocent to two counts of murder and 26 other felony charges. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 17.

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