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After fatal shooting, Oxford school district plans a soft reopening for classes


Tonight, people in Oxford, Mich., will remember 17-year-old Justin Charles Shilling. His is the last funeral of four for students killed in a school shooting last week. Here's NPR's Cheryl Corley reporting from Oxford.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Friends and family will gather to honor the memory of Justin Shilling, who died in a hospital the day after the shooting at Oxford High School. The others killed - Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre and Hana St. Juliana - died within hours. Their funerals were held earlier. It's still very much of a shock for 17-year-old Hunter Payne (ph), who was friends with Shilling when they were younger.

HUNTER PAYNE: I used to sit at lunch with him every day for three years in middle school.

CORLEY: Payne, who attends a different high school, met up to grab some pizza with a group of friends who are current Oxford students. Sixteen-year-old Adam Rosado (ph) says when he first saw a bunch of kids running, he thought they were playing but quickly joined in as they rushed to safety.

ADAM ROSADO: I just saw everyone just, like, hugging each other and crying and, like, that kind of - that kind of just, like, made me lose it, too.

CORLEY: Today, the Oxford School District's soft reopening gets underway with trauma response training for some of its staff. High school athletic practice will be held at different locations, but the high school, located on a hill a short drive from the restaurant, will remain closed until next year.

SARAH BUDREAU: It's right up at the top.

CORLEY: Sarah Budreau (ph), a longtime area resident and a former high school counselor, drives past the makeshift memorial of teddy bears, flowers and mementos at the front of the school's property. Not far away is the Oxford Middle School. It's one of the many spots where counseling is available for students.

BUDREAU: Some just need to talk. Keeping it in is not healthy, and there are so many that are going to need long-term counseling.

CORLEY: Much of the community healing takes place at the Legacy Center, a massive entertainment complex that's now considered ground zero in the community's effort to recover from the trauma of the school shooting.

BUDREAU: They have a yoga studio, a place for people to go for quiet, the trampoline park - they opened that up. It's just - it's a building that has many different things in it.

CORLEY: One of the people coordinating the overall volunteer effort is Matt Pfeiffer. He's owned a flooring company in the region for about two decades. It's where people bring in and help sort all sorts of donations, clothing, food, supplies. Pfeiffer says things change daily. Right now, the focus is on getting thousands of clear backpacks for students and cards of appreciation that families can send out to first responders.

MATT PFEIFFER: Our first responders are - they're broken, a lot of them around here right now that were in there. So we're trying to make sure that we give them support, gift cards we're trying to collect for them. But there's so much more.

CORLEY: Much of the effort is about fundraising to help families cover things like funeral costs and other bills. Scott Taylor is the co-owner of Sick Pizza in Oxford. He raised more than $80,000 doling out pizzas in exchange for donations.

SCOTT TAYLOR: When we originally started, our goal was 25 grand. We're hoping by Friday to have $100,000.

CORLEY: He grew up and went to high school in neighboring Lake Orion.

TAYLOR: We've always been huge rivals, and they're the Wildcats, and we're the dragons. And this week, we're all Wildcats. It's very important to me for my own healing to do something.

CORLEY: Oxford High School senior Chantin Varner (ph) says he appreciates the resolve of everyone in the area working to ease the community's trauma. He says that's what is most important now.

CHANTIN VARNER: The positive aspects of it, how we all pick ourselves back up and put the pieces back together, I mean, that's what's really spectacular about all this.

CORLEY: And an affirming way to try to overcome the pain that's racked this community over the past week. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Oxford.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOM ASHBROOK'S "SOLACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
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