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Graduating seniors honor friend they lost to suspected murder-suicide

Mya Pena would have turned 18 on May 6. She would have graduated on Sunday. Her friends found a way to honor her memory.

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Sunday was a big day for the small senior class at Mile High Academy in Highlands Ranch.

Students dressed in graduation gowns sat in chairs set several feet apart in the school parking lot. Family and friends watched from their cars or from the beds of pickup trucks as graduates received their diplomas.

Graduation day looked different because of COVID-19, but it felt different because Mya Pena was not there.

"Life isn’t the same without you. I would do anything to have you here graduating with us," said senior Emily Raymond, addressing the crowd from the podium.

Pena, 17, was found dead Jan. 14 – the victim of a suspected murder-suicide by a boy she knew and briefly dated, her family said. The boy took his own life.

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On Sunday, Pena's classmates wore a blue graduation cord in her honor. Three of Pena's close friends spoke during the beginning of the graduation ceremony.

“It’s funny because Mya would hate all the attention she’s getting right now, but she definitely deserves it," Raymond said.

Fellow senior Rachel Niyonzima tearfully recounted her last conversation with her friend.

“[Mya] had told me before I went to class, ‘have a good day,’ and smiled at me with her beautiful smile," said said.

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While friends shared their favorite memories, Pena's mother and older sister shared her diploma.

Pena's name was called and the parking lot at Mile High Academy erupted in a chorus of cheers and honking horns. Audra Pena posed for a photo with her eldest daughter while gripping the diploma of the daughter she lost.

Audra Pena told 9NEWS the moment was filled with mixed emotions.

“A lot of sadness that [Mya] couldn’t see it and be able to share it with us today, but also just totally honored that my baby made such an impact on the world in her short 17 years that she was here," Audra Pena said.

Graduation day at Mile High Academy took place during a pandemic in a parking lot, but graduating seniors will remember it for Mya Pena.

“Today was just – couldn’t be any more perfect," Audra Pena said.