DIXON, Ill. — Just four days after a student opened fire inside Dixon High School, students of the Class of 2018 returned to the gym where it happened for their graduation ceremony Sunday.
There were no empty seats as Mark Dallas led students into the gym, days after the student resource officer stopped a student who had planned to shoot up the school during a graduation rehearsal.
Authorities say 19-year-old Matthew Milby fired shots at Dallas, who returned fire and injured Milby. He sustained non-life threatening injuries.
Student speakers thanked their families, teachers, coaches and officer Dallas during the commencement ceremony Sunday.
"At 8:06 a.M., we all heard the shots. In a panic we all fled the scene, fearing four our lives. Today every single one of us in back in here with smiles on our faces and anticipation for the future,” Dixon graduate Emma Krull said. “From the class of 2018, we love you. You Mark Dallas are our hero, and we are all 'Dixon strong.'”
Dallas shared hugs with students during the ceremony— including his own son Joshua — after they walked across the stage.
“I was just very happy to have all of my classmates together, because imagine if something would have escalated more than it did,” graduate Madison Howard said.
The shooting at Dixon was one of three at American schools last week. The massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas would claim ten lives two days later.
"Certainly our hearts and our prayers go out to Santa Fe; it was very vivid for us... we knew because of Coach McKay’s actions and Officer Dallas’s actions there was no loss of life, that was a huge relief,” Dixon Mayor Liandro Arellano said.
valedictorian Jared Harrison used his remarks to celebrate the accomplishments of his class, taking time to joke about a different shared distraction: an ongoing school renovation project.
“We’ve been challenged by rigorous courses and tested by completion, we were even expected to listen in class over the jackhammers and swearing constructions workers," Harrison joked.
Through all the construction and events taking place just days before graduation, these students built something stronger in the bonds they share.
"We did this together, and I could not have wished for a better class to spend 12 years of my life with,” Harrison said.
Many acknowledged it was a difficult and emotional week in the small city 100 miles west of chicago, but said today was a day to celebrate.
Milby is charged with three counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm in connection with the shooting incident. He’s being held at the Lee County Jail on $2 million bond.