BENTON KY. (WTVF) — While COVID-19 made graduations for students in the Class of 2020 bittersweet, walking across the stage for seniors at a Kentucky school was never going to be the same even before the pandemic.
Marshall County High School held its graduation over two days with a drive-thru ceremony. Missing in attendance were Preston Cope and Bailey Holt, two 15-year-old students who died in a school shooting in January 2018. Teen gunman Gabriel Parker walked in and opened fire and injured more than a dozen others.
"It would have been awesome to graduate with him," MCHS graduate CJ Johnson told NewsChannel 5. "Preston was special to us and he was a great teammate and even better friend."
The school had memorial wreaths with pictures and flowers to honor Cope and Holt at the graduation ceremony. Months before, seniors also had Class of 2020 signs placed in the yard of their parents.
Baseball coach Rob McDonald said while he was quiet, Cope was universally loved and his personality shined once he started getting to know you. Cope's high school baseball team always honored the "quiet yet funny" teen with a custom baseball glove and a sign for him out in the field.
"In the left center we have a big sign and has a baseball on it and says PC5," friend Riley Harris said. "For every game we went out to that sign and we prayed. Everyday we step on the field and everything we do, we try to do it in his name."
Four other students who died in their class outside of the shooting also had memorial wreaths at the ceremony to remember them.
Parker pleaded guilty to 16 charges last month including murder. He faces life with the possibility of parole after 20 years in a sentencing hearing scheduled in June.