The mourners gathered at the Kelly Walsh High School soccer field, gripping bright yellow balloons to protect them from the relentless afternoon wind.
Inscribed on the balloons were messages written in black ink.
“Fly away.” “My best friend.” “I love you so much.”
The messages were for Aurora Rohrer, a 16-year-old student and member of the school’s dance team. Two days earlier, she had headed to Riverton to watch her boyfriend wrestle for Natrona County High School. On the trip, the driver lost control in slick conditions, spun into oncoming traffic and was hit by a pickup.
Aurora died later at a hospital in Casper.
On the first day of school since the crash, more than 200 people walked onto the turf to remember their classmate, their friend.
“I wrote #ForAurora,” explained Dayton Stone, a Kelly Walsh student who said he was friends with Aurora. “She was one of the best people I ever met. ... She was so kind.”
“And pretty,” he said, smiling. “Beyond pretty.”
Student Teryn Christian stood on the turf field and cried as she described missing the funeral of a friend over the summer. So even though she didn’t really know Aurora, she was here, for Aurora, and for her friend.
Standing beside her was Kiaya Johnson. She knew Aurora: Once, after a grandparent died, she was walking to the high school’s counseling office.
She broke down and Aurora was there to comfort and hold her.
“She crumpled to the floor with me as I broke down,” Kiaya said, her voice cracking. She added that Aurora had stood up for her in the past, when she’d been bullied.
After Kiaya heard about her friend’s death, she didn’t want it to be real.
“I wanted it to be my worst nightmare,” she said. “It wasn’t.”
Aurora was the passenger in a 2006 Chevy Trailblazer that was traveling west on U.S. Highway 20/26 on Saturday. Driving was another Kelly Walsh student, who has not been identified pending the investigation, the Wyoming Highway Patrol announced Monday. Kelly Walsh High School Principal Brad Diller, who was at the balloon release and yelled over the wind about unity, said the driver is recovering at home.
In slick road conditions, the driver attempted to pass another vehicle before the crest of a hill in a no-passing zone, according to the highway patrol. The driver lost control, spun into the eastbound lanes and was hit by a 2005 GMC Sierra pickup that was also towing a horse trailer.
The pickup was driven by 41-year-old Riverton resident Clint Acres and was cresting the hill when the Trailblazer spun into the eastbound lanes. Two passengers were riding with him.
All five people were wearing their seat belts. Acres, his passengers and Aurora’s driver were taken to Wyoming Medical Center, where they were treated and released. Aurora was flown to the same hospital, where she died.
The Highway Patrol is investigating “traveling at a speed too fast for the highway conditions and passing in a no-passing zone” as factors in the crash. Rohrer’s death is the seventh highway death in Wyoming so far this year.
In a brief interview Monday morning, Diller said he was meeting with students and that counselors were available. Some students were meeting with counselors in groups and others were meeting individually.
“A lot of people here trying to help kids,” he said.
A statement on the Kelly Walsh dance team’s Facebook page, posted Sunday morning, asked for prayers for the family.
“As we wake this morning it is without our beautiful teammate. We can not express the sorrow and emptiness we feel,” the statement said. “Please pray for her family’s comfort. We love you Aurora!”
There were also counselors available at Natrona County High School. A student’s parent committed suicide last week, so the counseling staff was already mobilized, said principal Shannon Harris. She stressed that although KW and NC are different schools, they’re still unified in tragedy.
The two schools play each other in basketball Thursday, and students from both schools plan to wear all white. Harris said they also plan to wear leis. Aurora’s uncle, Louis Rohrer, explained that Aurora loved Hawaii. Stone said it was her dream to live there.
Jacob Dietz, a Natrona County basketball player, was at the balloon release with other boys wearing NC jackets over collared shirts and ties. They were supposed to play a game tonight, he explained, but it was canceled because of Aurora’s death. He said he and his classmates wanted to show support with Kelly Walsh.
“As a city, we’re kind of united right now in this heartbreak,” he said.
After Diller shouted instructions, the balloons were let go, caught by the wind and pulled into the blue-gray sky.