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Hundreds at hostage taker memorial

Hundreds of people attended a memorial to a 15-year-old US schoolboy who held his social studies class hostage before shooting himself last week, setting aside the terrifying stand-off to remember him as a quiet, helpful leader who loved the outdoors.

Sam Hengel held 26 classmates and his teacher at gunpoint for nearly six hours at his school in Marinette, Wisconsin.

His family held the memorial gathering in a school auditorium in Menominee, Michigan, just across the border from Marinette, because they expected so many supporters.

Barb Post of Marinette, Wisconsin, said she didn't know Hengel's family but attended anyway to show support. She said: "You care about the people and the family, and you understand it could happen to anybody."

Why Hengel took his class hostage remains a mystery. Other students and his teacher have said he was well-liked and had many friends.

The stand-off last Monday at Marinette High School began when Hengel returned to his sixth-hour western civilisation class from a bathroom break. He had two semi-automatic pistols and a backpack jammed with more than 200 rounds of ammunition and a pair of knives.

During the stand-off students talked to him about everything from hunting and fishing to his favourite movies in an attempt to keep him calm. Teacher Valerie Burd acted as a go-between for Hengel and police. Officers stormed the room after Hengel fired three shots about 8 pm, destroying the classroom phone and hitting a computer. Hengel shot himself as officers reached him and died the next morning.

Flurries fell under an overcast sky Sunday afternoon, adding to a feeling of gloom. The line to greet the teenager's parents and two younger brothers stretched out of the auditorium and into the lobby, where mourners gazed at collages of photos depicting Hengel as a small child, holding a string of fish and paddling along on a canoe trip with his family. On a table was a message board. Hengel's brother, Ben, had written "I will always miss you, brother" on it.

Next to the board were pin-on buttons emblazoned with Hengel's face and take-home cards listing symptoms that might indicate suicidal thoughts.

The Reverend Nicholas Johannes told the crowd he wondered why Hengel did it as he held the boy's hand in the hospital, but said he'll never know. Hengel was a good person and God would not judge him on one act, he promised. People's lives revolve around work so much they don't listen or help each other anymore, he added.

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