'They're part of the 49er nation': UNCC shooting victims honored at graduation ceremonies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Charlotte held graduation ceremonies Friday and Saturday, just 10 days after a gunman stormed a classroom and killed two people while wounding four others.

About 5,000 graduates will receive their diplomas this weekend.

Students from UNCC's business, architecture and health careers colleges were the first to graduate.

“I know today, my greeting comes at a time that the Niner Nation has been shaken by tragedy,” a professor told the crowd Friday night.

[ALSO READ: Witness in classroom said UNCC shooter ‘targeted specific table of people']

At Friday night's graduation Chancellor Chancellor Philip Dubois announced an anonymous couple has fully funded two permanently endowed UNCC scholarships totaling $1 million in honor of the two victims of the shooting, Riley Howell and Reed Parlier.

One of the scholarships is in Reed's name and the other is in Riley's name, so the legacy of the young men will always be present.

“At this time, I ask that you join me in a moment of silence in memory of Riley and Reed and in thanks for the lives of our four injured students, and countless others who were spared because of their sacrifice,” Dubois said.

Graduation for the university's education, computing, engineering and liberal arts colleges was held Saturday.

"We, as Niner Nation, persevered," a student said.

23-year-old Emily Houpt, one of the four survivors of the tragic shooting, was the first to walk across the stage to receive her degree in International Affairs on Saturday afternoon.

She did so, to a standing ovation.

Riley and Reed will also be honored Saturday by receiving degrees in memoriam. Channel 9's Stephanie Tinoco reports that 23 members of Riley Howell's family along with his longtime girlfriend were in attendance to receive his degree in memorium.

"We know that Riley's passing on April 30th leaves your family with a hole that cannot be filled. But we want you to know that he was an important part of the UNC Charlotte academic community," Dubois said.

Reed's family heard the same sentimental message before receiving his degree Saturday morning.

"It is my honor to convey to Reed's family the bachelor of science degree in memorium," Dubois said.

The moments honoring those killed in the tragic shooting and those who survived touched many families who attended the ceremonies.

"They're part of the 49er nation, so it's only right," Tammy Douthit said. "A part of us will always be with those families."

One father told Channel 9's Stephanie Tinoco that his daughter is walking across the stage this weekend, but it's very bittersweet.

“She was supposed to be in that area but through the grace of God, she did so well, her teacher told her she didn’t need to go to class that day,” Bob Edmond said of his daughter, who graduated.

Police said a gunman carrying a pistol and a bag full of bullets burst into a class that he'd dropped and opened fire on students on the last day they were meeting.

“Knowing my daughter is safe makes it that much more special but at the same time it makes me feel like I cheated because of those families whose lives have been changed forever and they can’t get it back," he said.

Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, is charged with first-degree murder.

UNCC beefing up security for graduation ceremonies; moment of silence planned

The University of North Carolina-Charlotte beefed up security for graduation ceremonies this weekend after tragedy struck the campus last week.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Channel 9's coverage of the UNCC shootings]

Graduation is a big moment, which is why Dubois said he wants the ceremonies to go well, especially after the university went through so much sorrow last week following the classroom shootings and deaths of two students, Riley and Reed.

(Riley and Reed)

Dubois said a moment of silence was planned to recognize the two students.

“We are going to try and acknowledge the injuries to our students and the deaths of Reed and Riley,” Dubois said. “At the same time, we want to appropriately acknowledge the 4,800 graduate and undergraduate students.”

There were three ceremonies -- one on Friday and two on Saturday. The celebrations weren't open to the public, only to students and their guests.

Still, in the wake of the tragedy, security changes have been made. Each person allowed inside will have to pass through a metal detector.

“We already had a security plan, we enhanced that security plan, and we are moving forward,” said UNCC Police Chief Jeff Baker. “It’s an extra level of security and we felt that it (metal detectors) would be necessary. We also thought it would make people feel more comfortable in the aftermath of such an incident.”

Authorities want families to know they can help out the security staff by arriving at the ceremonies early and by bringing items in clear plastic bags.