BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It was an emotional night Wednesday as McKinley High School celebrated its graduates while also honoring the life of one of their own.
The night was full of celebration and new beginnings as the McKinley High School Class of 2017 graduated, but one chair draped in a blue and white ribbon sat empty during the ceremony. The school's star quarterback and honor student, Bryant Lee, 18, could not be there. The teen was gunned down over the weekend, but was given every honor Wednesday night as his fellow Panthers walked across the stage.
In perhaps the most touching moment of the night, his family members fought back tears as they received his diploma, senior portrait, and honors. It's a moment they say he truly deserved.
"This is something that he looked forward to and he did too, so I'm celebrating in his honor," said his aunt, Pamela Johnson Hickman.
While the mood was one of celebration, Lee was not far from several of his fellow Panthers' minds.
"We love you Bryant Lee and you are forever with us," said one of his classmates.
"Emotions are still fresh, still raw, but like I told all the seniors, tonight is a celebration and we're going to make sure that it is a celebration for all of their accomplishments," said McKinley principal, Herman Brister.
While many cheered for their own graduates, the excitement was electric, but for the slain teen's family, the night was bittersweet.
Because few people have come forward with information, police admit they have run into roadblocks in the case. As they sat through what would have been the brightest achievement in his young life, Lee's family says they are not losing hope his killer will be found.
"It's a horrible feeling and I hope they do catch this person, whomever did this, because we do want justice and we're not going to stop until justice is done," said Hickman.
Through Wednesday's celebration, Brister says he hopes family members of the slain football standout truly see what their loved one meant to the school. "We love him and he was well-loved at McKinley Senior High School and as a now alumnus of McKinley Senior High School, his memory will always be embraced," Brister added.
As the confetti and the cheers will soon fade, the memory of number five will live on long after graduation night.
Police are still searching for information in this case. Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 225-344-7867.