This past August, over 600 students returned to Weld Central ready to start the 2017-2018 year. Former juniors advanced to their last year of high school, attempting to banish the memory of two tragedies hanging over their heads, as though they could rewrite and redo the events of the last few years. As our school year continues, reminders of Izzy Leet and Keith Kilker still linger, whether it’s in the form of the wrestling tournament held in honor of Keith or in the upcoming one-year anniversary of Izzy’s death. The one thing that remains the same in these reminders is the urging of us to move on, as if their encouragement is enough to expel our flashbacks to the early morning hours in which we fell to our knees in sorrow with the knowledge of the unexpected, finally understanding the fragility of life.
On August 5 of 2014, around 1:30 am, Keith was shot and killed by his father, Shawn Kilker, during a standoff in which Mr. Kilker barricaded himself and his son in the house. Although according to The Denver Channel, Keith told authorities that he was staying in the house of his own free will, his friend Austin Inskeep questions his decision-making abilities at the time, saying that he was “under the influence” of drugs given to him by his father. Whether Keith was voluntarily intoxicated or not is unknown, but the effect was the same. Almost immediately after the shots were fired, police broke into the home and found both Keith and his father lifeless in the living room. Within minutes of the incident, articles were being published and family members and friends were informed by the horrific sight of flashing red, white and blue lights. Marc Barry, a wrestling partner and friend of Keith, recalled that morning with abundant emotion. He remembers feeling upset and having great disbelief. Barry says that as soon as his mother told him about Keith’s death, he locked himself in his room in an attempt to deal with the tragic news. Cousin and best friend of Keith, Brandon Burke, recollected doing the same, saying he “cried all day.” Burke spoke of a get-together at Keith’s grandparent’s house later that day. After they all had lunch, they attended the memorial service that evening that was held in Keenesburg. Inskeep remembers the memorial being “very sad with a lot of crying and a lot of unity. People were just comforting other people, and that was what people needed at the time.” Around a week and a half later, the community came together at Weld Central High School to attend the official memorial for Keith. Constant support was everywhere for the Kilkers and their family. At the Southeast Weld County Fair that was held the Saturday following Keith’s death, several kids raised money to be donated to the Kilker family, according to The Denver Channel. Barry brought up the fact that our community also named a wrestling tournament after Keith, as he was an extremely talented wrestler, having “won a Colorado State Championship when he was ten years old,” according to his obituary. Not only did we provide shoulders for the Kilker family to lean on, we also, according to Kelly Miller, helped those who were grieving to cope with this unexplainable death, by supplying counselors who could try to offer some type of comfort. Even though this was an option for everyone, it didn’t assist everyone. Burke explained that although he tried therapy, “it wasn’t helpful to him.” Despite the inability of therapy to aid his sorrow, he says that he has found peace about his best friend’s death by just “coping with it,” in spite of being “a little suicidal the first couple weeks.” On the contrary, Inskeep admits that he hasn’t found peace because “he was still so young, and he had such a big future, probably the biggest out of all of us [his friends].” He declares that “Keith would’ve done amazing things” if he hadn’t been caught in the net of calamity. Barry agrees, saying that Keith’s legacy was “his drive to be everyone’s friend and a really good man.” Regardless of Keith’s death, his friends are now determined to carry on the legacy he left behind. Just as determined as this group is yet another crowd who also suffered a terrible loss, even more recently.
On December 23rd of 2016, just after midnight, Izzy Leet rolled her truck off of Hwy. 52 while driving home and passed away. Although the circumstances surrounding her death are a far cry from those surrounding Keith’s, the outcome-and the aftermath-was no different. Mikayla Rupple, best friend and basketball teammate, recalls being called in the early hours of the morning by Rachel, Izzy’s sister. Rachel told Rupple of the accident, and broke the news that she “didn’t make it.” Rupple’s eyes filled with tears as she induced the memory of screaming in agony and not being able to “hold [herself] up.” Tianna Pippin, another friend and basketball player, remembered being called by Rupple and informed of what had happened, saying she was “heartbroken and shocked.” Kelly Miller, a friend of Izzy, found out through posts on Facebook and says that “I cried, unable to get myself together for a good 15-20 min.” The week that followed the accident brought shock to many members of the community as they looked through the news and logged into Facebook. Friday, December 30th, marked the week anniversary that was commemorated by our community through the public memorial. According to the Greeley Tribune, over 500 people attended the funeral. Bronwyn Kalcevic, a classmate and friend who attended, remembers still being “in shock [and] grief-stricken.” Those feelings were not only present at the funeral, but still run rampant among the student body, and many of Izzy’s teachers, including her mentor and basketball coach, Mr. Canaday. Canaday, who spoke at the funeral, allows that it is still surreal, saying that he “think[s] about her every day.” He remarked that while she was his football manager and basketball player, she was also “the closest student I ever taught.” It appears that Canaday isn’t the only one who hasn’t found peace about this tragedy as Miller asserted that she “still [doesn’t] want to believe it because… just thinking, she was too young to go.” Pippin added that she doesn’t “really think anybody close to her has. I think it’s just one day at a time.” Rupple notes that people should “try not to focus on the bad. Just try to focus on the good person she was, affecting the community in a good way.” Everything that Izzy put into the community came full circle after her death when we planted a tree in memory of her, given by Resurrection Christian High School, and after blue bands were made and distributed, stating “Izzy #5 Fear Not Jeremiah 29:11.” These bands, which are seen all around town on the wrists of teens and adults alike, salute Izzy with her nickname, her basketball number, and the location and meaning of her favorite scripture. She was baptized around a year before her death, according to her pastor, Doug Dameron, who read the scripture at the funeral in the following version: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ said the Lord, ‘they are plans for good, not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” The bands are a daily reminder for Izzy’s loved ones that she never gave up, and we shouldn’t either.
Every day, as we walk the halls of Weld Central, our minds may be on the current drama, the upcoming game, or our last class, but sometimes, we just can’t stop thinking about the disaster that fell upon our community twice in the space of just over two years. I’m here to remind you that it’s okay if you still feel a missing space in your life for Keith and Izzy, because others still do as well. I know I do. Moving on will eventually be inevitable, but it will happen at your own pace. Don’t forget to remember that Keith and Izzy would want us to make joy our first priority, and so we must strive to honor their memory by continuing the legacy of beauty and kindness that is now our inheritance.