DIXON – Thursday afternoon, Dixon High School seniors, heads held high, strode back into the very gym they fled Wednesday morning to escape a classmate turned gunman.
It was around 8 a.m. and the Class of 2018, about 150 students strong, were getting ready to practice for Sunday’s graduation ceremony when fellow senior Matthew A. Milby Jr. entered the Lancaster Gym and opened fire.
Milby fled, and was shot and wounded outside the gym by school resource officer Mark Dallas; no one else was injured.
His actions did not deter nor delay Sunday’s 1 p.m. ceremony.
All students were given the day off Thursday, although counselors were on hand – and will be until Tuesday, the end of the school year – for anyone who needed to talk.
Police made their increased presence known around the high school, as local and national media jockeyed in the parking lots for a chance to talk to students about Wednesday’s ordeal.
It didn’t feel too different being back at school, said senior Tyler Adcock, 18.
“It was a more serious atmosphere being back, but that was because of the security,” Adcock said.
Principal Mike Grady spoke to the students before graduation practice began.
“Dr. Grady and the faculty said that this (Dixon High School) is going to be the safest place in Dixon.”
Practice went smoothly, he added. “We won’t let a shooting like this stop us from moving forward.”
Senior Caleb Vogel, 17, said he couldn’t sleep Wednesday night.
“Last night, we sat and talked with friends until about 1 a.m. about what happened,” he said.
“I think this makes us stronger as a class.”
Joe Riley, 17, arrived at school just as all hell was breaking loose.
“I was late to school Wednesday because my tire popped. I pulled into the school and saw kids running out and officer Dallas yelling at us to leave,” the DHS junior said. “I peeled out of there and drove to the tennis courts, and called my dad, who told me to meet him at McDonald’s.
“I was afraid that all of the seniors had been killed after we found out what happened,” he said, adding that he feels for them and what they went through.
Riley said he was looking forward to returning to school today, but things are going to be “weird,” and he feels for the seniors at Dixon.
“It’s hard to come back here,” senior Arthur Cox III said after practice. “It’s scary, because you see this on the news, but not here.”
Still, the 18-year-old is optimistic about Sunday.
“We worked 4 years for this, we’re not going to let this ruin graduation.”