MARYSVILLE — Nate Hatch stood before the south fence of Marysville Pilchuck High School, hundreds of people behind him.
The fence was decorated with “MP Stronger” in giant letters fashioned from red plastic cups. Nate, 15, stopped for a moment and looked back at his family and friends. He then began to weave two carnations into the pattern. He chose one red flower and one white, the school’s colors, placing them near the top of the “P.”
As Nate turned to continue his walk around the campus Saturday, one friend rubbed his shoulder. Another took his hand. Fellow Tulalip tribal members began a traditional song.
Three young boys danced in a circle, their arms swooping behind them as they dipped and turned.
Saturday marked one year since a high school freshman shot his friends and then himself in a cafeteria. Four of Nate’s friends were murdered. He was the lone survivor.
On Saturday, his mother, Denise Hatch, and other family members wore shirts that said “Nate Strong. Inspiring. Courageous. Warrior.”
They walked with him to the south end of the stadium and released four balloons, all shaped like stars, white with red bows.
Before the remembrance walk, Nate had taken his place among the students in the first row of a packed Quil Ceda Stadium. A moment of silence followed at 10:39 a.m.
The ceremony was brief by design and quiet by choice. Students didn’t want speeches from people in suits. They wanted to be together and, in many cases, to be left alone. They turned from reporters and other outsiders who have been returning to their school for months, asking the same questions.
Saturday’s event focused on resiliency, a promise that things will be OK in time, with hope and with love.
That promise was conveyed in hugs, in glances and in just being there in the dark moments when words wouldn’t come.
The 1.6-mile loop around the high school had been dubbed the “Walk of Strength.” People held hands and linked arms. Some carried tribal drums. Others burned sage.
Those who gathered were encouraged to help plant thousands of bulbs of red and white tulips at the south end of the stadium.
Chris King, a sports announcer who graduated from Marysville Pilchuck in 2005, credited those who worked on Saturday’s event. Some of the organizers were his former classmates, said King, 28.
Everyone seemed intent on doing their best, even as the one-year milestone weighed heavily on their minds, he said.
“People are proud to be from here. I’m proud to be from here,” King said. “It’s a tough thing to see happening. Everyone wants to rally together.”
The chilly morning had people pulling on commemorative T-shirts and sweatshirts over heavy coats, and wrapping shared blankets over shoulders. Some wore shirts with names and photos of the victims: Gia Soriano, Zoe Galasso, Shaylee Chuckulnaskit and Andrew Fryberg.
“This is my school and I feel like I should be here to support my friends,” said Kameisha Denton, a junior at Marysville Pilchuck.
She was there Saturday with her family and best friend, Hannah Reams, also a junior.
Reams wore the same sweatshirt she was given last year in the days after the shootings, when the high school was closed and there was nothing to do but gather with friends and walk around town.
The girls spent that whole week together, trying to make sense of the hurt.
“It still feels like a bad dream,” Denton said.
“We’ve grown so much. We’ve grown closer,” Reams said.
It’s a time they hate to remember, the girls said, but also a time they don’t want to forget.
Teresa Burrows’ daughter, Allyssa, is a sophomore at Marysville Pilchuck. Burrows and her younger daughter, Emma, 12, said they were at the campus Saturday to support Allyssa, who had slipped into the stands with friends.
Serena Anderson and her friend, Chelsey Goeden, both seventh-graders at Marysville Middle School, were using their fingers to dig holes for the tulip bulbs, then smoothed over the dirt over with their sneakers.
U.S. Army Reserve Master Sgt. Richard Montgomery, 55, of Marysville, was in uniform, offering support. He’s a resiliency trainer and works with soldiers returning from war.
He sees parallels between what the students have been living with and the experiences of his fellow soldiers. The healthy path forward is the same, he said. Embrace your family, pay attention to what you are feeling and know that, eventually, you will bounce back.
His advice? Find your resiliency in the people you love.
After the moment of silence, one teen girl in the stands embraced another who couldn’t hold back her tears. People around them began encouraging one another to stand.
Slowly, the girls, too, decided to stand.
That’s what they’ve been doing for a year now — encouraging each other to rise.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.