Taylor Donelson, 13, returned to Bull Run Middle School yesterday to share hugs, cotton candy and yearbooks with her classmates at a deferred end-of-school celebration.
"I'm so glad they did this," Taylor said. "I wasn't worried about coming back to this school because I knew it was fine, and they cleared everything out."
Nothing but memories remained of the incident that ruined the real last day of school -- Friday, June 18, when a 12-year-old seventh-grader armed with a rifle threatened students and staff members at the Prince William County school in an apparent attempt at retaliation for months of bullying, police have said. Teachers locked down their classrooms, turned off the lights and had their students sit against interior walls until police arrived to disarm the boy, evacuate the building and search the premises.
Although that day was terrifying for parents and school officials, the students said they remember it mostly as hot and boring -- unlike yesterday, which was cool and lots of fun.
Taylor, who stopped counting at 10 helpings of cotton candy, joined her friends in the school cafeteria late in the afternoon to eat hot dogs and hamburgers and sign yearbooks.
Principal William Bixby said he knew soon after the gun incident that he would bring the students back for a proper party. "We had a really good year," he said, "and we have good kids. We wanted to have a positive closure for the kids."
The school also held a postponed luncheon for staff members, and more than half of them attended, he said.
Some of the students said the turnout was much higher than they expected. Waves of students picked up free T-shirts, jumped in inflatable bounce houses and waited for the periodic door prize drawings.
"I was like, 'Wow,' " said Kaitlyn Britton, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who said she spotted 10 or 15 of her friends.
"I thought it was cool that they did this, and I know lots of people here," said Jennifer Villatoro, also a 12-year-old seventh-grader. "But I thought they were all going to be on vacation."
Pam Navari, a Bull Run Parent-Teacher-Student Organization member, said she wasn't sure how the event would turn out. "When you do something like this, you never know," she aid. "But it's been a great turnout. It's a great school, and everyone has pulled together to make this happen."
David Alexander, a 13-year-old eighth-grader who returned with two friends, said he had only a few minutes to chat on the last day of school before he found himself in lockdown.
"We just wanted to see everybody," David said. "We never got a chance to say goodbye."
The suspect is being held in the county juvenile detention center, awaiting an Aug. 11 trial on several charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and conspiracy to commit abduction for money. At a preliminary hearing, police officers testified that he brought two other weapons and boxes of ammunition to the school.
The boy's mother, Naomi Lewis, was charged with possession of a weapon on school property and faces up to five years in prison. Police have said that she was unaware of the plot but that she saw the weapons in the car and didn't tell anyone. Her case is due to be presented to a grand jury Aug. 2.
In addition, a 13-year-old Haymarket boy, who police said helped plan the attack but backed out at the last minute, is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 11 on a charge of conspiracy to possess firearms on school property.