OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Portland Police Officer George Ortega claps along with students as he enters the Reynolds High School gymnasium Monday, March 16. Reynolds High School students gathered first responders including law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics and volunteers at the Troutdale school on Monday, March 16, to honor and thank them for their heroic work during the school-shooting tragedy of June 10, 2014.

It was the first official, school-wide observance thanking first responders since the shooting incident shattered East County's sense of security late last spring.

“We are gathered here today to embrace the blessings that only the healing process can bring,” Troutdale police Chief Scott Anderson told the assembly.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Junior Class council member Isaiah Sims shakes hands with first responders during an event held to thank those who responded to the June 2014 shooting at Reynolds High School. The school was ringed with large American flags flapping in the sun during the event, attended by more than 150 first responders from the dozens of agencies whose personnel descended on the school that day.

Reynolds freshman Emilio Hoffman, 14, was killed by classmate Jared Padgett, 15, who stormed into the boys' locker room shooting an AR-15 assault-style rifle. Hoffman was one month shy of his 15th birthday.

Gym teacher Todd Rispler was grazed on the hip by a bullet, but managed to get to the office to summon authorities and initiate a school lockdown. As police closed in, Padgett fatally shot himself.

Monday, however, was a day of celebration and honor. The first responders had a group photo taken before students, decked out in their finer clothes, cheered and shouted “Thank you!” as they walked through the school to the luncheon. One of the school's cafeteria workers was sobbing as the officers passed through.

The officers were clearly moved.

“I got chills,” said one Gresham police officer. "It feels good to be appreciated.”

Lunch was followed by a moving assembly of tribute and thanks.

Connor Stewart“We cannot thank you enough, not only for what you did for us on June 10, but for what you guys do every day,” said Connor Stewart, Associated Student Body president, told the first responders, fighting back tears.

During the luncheon, Stewart had stopped by every table to personally thank each group of officers.

Anderson told the assembly, “I want the students and staff to know that it's a privilege to serve as your police chief, your friend, your colleague, and you will always have a special place in my heart.”

Reynolds sophomore Hailey Siebert read a heart-wrenching composition reflecting her feelings during the crisis.

“Dear mom,” she asked, “people are all around me, but I've never felt so alone.” She also queried, “Dear mom, “will I ever feel better?”

OUTLOOK PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Portland Police Officer Douglas Erickson walks through Reynolds High as students applaud.A poignant video showed students and staff holding a white board with scrawled words — vulnerable, petrified, protective, alone, frightened and shocked among them — reflecting how they felt that day. Then they erased those feelings and held up the same board to show how they feel today: bright, grateful, proud, empathetic, hopeful and blessed.

The Reynolds choir brought more people to tears as they sang a mournful but beautiful Haitian song about loss and grief.

Each volunteer, officer and first responder received a specially designed commemorative “challenge coin.” The coins, reminders of service and a strong connection the person has with others, were presented by Reynolds Leadership students moving through the crowd and offering handshakes.

Students gave the responders another standing ovation and came down from the bleachers into the crowd to shake hands and hug their uniformed heroes.

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