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Seniors Put Shooting Behind Them

May 29, 1999

CONYERS, Ga. (AP) _ Nine days ago, students at Heritage High School frantically looked for escape routes when a classmate opened fire and wounded six people.

But during graduation ceremonies Friday, seniors at the school gratefully looked forward to their future _ and a trip to the tropics.

``We still have that nervous feeling walking up to the stage just like every grad has anywhere,″ said Kevin Lowe, 18, who planned to join his fellow seniors at next week’s class trip to Cancun, Mexico.

After getting their diplomas, the graduates held an impromptu and unprecedented group hug, an emotional release for students who survived a shooting spree one month after 15 people died in the Colorado massacre.

Security was tight for the event, and media access was limited at the request of parents and students who wished to focus on the seniors’ accomplishments and not the May 20 shooting.

After the ceremony, the seniors gathered in the same commons area where the shooting took place, gave cheers and danced for several minutes.

``This brought them all together,″ said school counselor Steven Brown. ``They bounced back real quick and they didn’t let it faze them.″

All six students who were injured in the attack were released from the hospital after being treated for gunshot wounds.

The suspect, T.J. Solomon, 15, faces 20 counts of aggravated assault, cruelty to children and weapons charges. District Attorney Richard Read has said he will seek to try Solomon as an adult.

Only salutatorian Shaffiq Welji referred to the incident in his speech.

``For the last eight days, Heritage has been known worldwide for a single incident _ a tragedy,″ Welji said to a capacity crowd in the school gymnasium. ``My 13 years of schooling, however, have made me look at that day’s events as a single occurrence, minuscule in comparison to the achievements of our class of 1999.″

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