One of the Wisconsin students photographed appearing to give a Nazi salute said he didn't realize until afterward how bad the image looked.
The shocking photo, which was taken in the spring before junior prom, only recently began making the rounds online. In the picture, almost all of the 63 boys from Baraboo High School appear to make the Sieg Heil salute.
However, now-high school senior Brock Turkington told local station WISC that the picture is being misinterpreted and the students were just "goofing around."
"[The photographer] said, 'Alright boys, last one, throw up the "hi sign,"' and it was kind of a mass confusion because we were all kind of goofing around," Turkington said.
"We were kind of confused like we didn't know what the 'hi sign' was, so I actually turned to one of my friends in the picture and was like, 'Hey, what's going on?' and he said, 'I don't know just stick your hand out,' because that's what he kind of demonstrated.
"So I just turned and stuck my hand up and that's kind of what happened."
Turkington said the students didn't know what they were doing. "After we saw the picture we thought, 'Oh, maybe that kind of looks a little bit bad,'" he said.
He added that the students "all kinda know about the Holocaust and what the gesture meant, and that's not at all what we were trying to do."
"We're deeply sorry for anybody that we offended, and that's not at all what we meant," he said.
Not every boy in the image salutes. One, Jordan Blue, refused to do so. He told CBS News that he had little warning when the photographer, Pete Gust, told them to raise their hands.
“As soon as I heard the photographer say, 'Raise your hand,' I knew what was going to happen,” Blue said. “He said, you know, 'Raise your hand.’ He did not say, 'Raise your hand in a Nazi symbol way.' And I’m pretty sure my classmates just interpreted it as, ‘Raise your hand, let's do this as a joke.’”
Gust defended the photo, saying he didn’t tell the boys to salute anything.
"[I said,] 'Give me ... a wave that you're saying goodbye to your parents.’ And I called it ‘high five' ... and so I stuck my hand up, and I said, ‘This is what I want.’ I didn't tell them to salute anything,” he told news outlet Madison 365.
The photographer has since removed the photo from his website.
"To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize,” he wrote in its place.
The school district is investigating.