HOPE MILLS, North Carolina (WTVD) -- As South View High School's class of 2017 moves forward with pomp and circumstance, they leave an empty chair behind them, honoring a classmate who should be there with them.
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Danielle Locklear was just 15 years old when her life was cut short in 2014, and her South View classmates have not forgotten her.
Her family plans to be at Thursday's graduation.
"It gets emotional for us at times because they say time heals all wounds but I feel that we still need more time," Chena Simmons, Locklear's aunt, said.
Danielle was a bright young woman, with aspirations of going into the culinary arts; now her memory serves to inspire others.
"She was a sweet girl, she was with us her ninth-grade year," said Brian Edkins, who was principal at South View when Danielle was there.
"Walking down the hallway with that beautiful smile, those beautiful eyes, always happy," Edkins recalled.
Danielle's body was found in South River. Her ex-boyfriend, Je'Michael Malloy, confessed to the crime. His friend, Dominic Lock was also convicted as an accomplice - robbing her of her chance to turn her tassel.
Complete coverage of the Locklear case
"I know Danielle, she would be very happy to see this," her grandmother, Darlene Heegel said.
"Reach for your goals. Don't take any day for granted," Simmons said, addressing the students.
"I feel a great inspiration, and a great love for them, for them being able to continue on and live their lives, and do some of the things they wanted to do," Simmons said of the graduating class.
Hope Mills students honor slain classmate Danielle Locklear at graduation
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