Students, faculty and family members gathered on the Moffat County High School football field Thursday night as the sun was setting.
People stood together at the 50-yard line, each person holding a balloon aloft.
From the stadium loudspeaker, an announcer’s voice silenced the din of the crowd.
“We share this day to honor that smile that we so love. Today is the day to remember, to remember those corny jokes that only he got. To remember his goofy laugh, and the eyes that never had an ounce of hate within.
“So everyone, tie your words to a string and let’s honor that sweet smile. Release your balloons and let them float to the heavens so that he may pop them with a firearm and read about how much he meant to us.”
And with those words, hundreds of balloons floated on a brisk wind and were gone.
On the football field, friends and family of Russell Walsh stood suddenly empty-handed and speechless.
Russell, 16, was killed Saturday in a single-vehicle crash on Moffat County Road 10 about 20 miles northwest of Maybell.
Russell and the driver, Samuel Jesse Sheridan, were taken by ambulance to The Memorial Hospital in Craig. Sheridan sustained moderate injuries, and Walsh died from his injuries at the hospital.
Neither was wearing a seat belt.
“He just had a zest for life,” Brenda Walsh said of her son. “From the very beginning, his life was gung-ho.”
Brenda and her husband, Chris Walsh, said their son was a hunter, welder, fisherman, water skier, and a member of FFA and 4-H. They also said Russell was a class clown, but a good student. He had aspirations to be an attorney.
“He was going to be a lawyer,” Brenda said.
“He loved getting in and reading up on the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Colorado, be-
cause he found things in there that gave him power,” Chris said. “There was one teacher that said, ‘You have no rights, you’re a kid.’ And Russell said, ‘Oh yes I do. You look in the Colorado Constitution.’”
“He carried in his wallet a little piece of paper with the statute number and what it said,” Brenda said.
MCHS junior Dario Georgiou said Russell could walk a fine line with teachers.
“He was always a smart (aleck),” Georgiou said. “He was always goofing off, but he was always getting his work done.”
Bobby Kyle, also a junior, agreed with Georgiou.
“He was a straight nerd-slash-comedian,” Kyle said. “He got straight A’s pretty much, but he could also be the class clown. He could make everybody laugh.”
His parents also appreciated their son’s humor.
“He could always make me laugh,” Brenda said. “I could be so mad at him for something, I could just choke him. And he would inevitably say or do or look or something, and I was laughing. I could never stay mad at him.”
“The more he got you in stitches, the more he’d pour it on,” Chris said.
Shea and Amber Snare, both students at MCHS, said Russell was indeed funny.
Shea said Russell would want to be remembered as “the goofball.”
“He was always goofing around,” Shea said.
“He was the guy everyone wanted to be with,” Amber said. “Everybody wanted to be his friend.”
Chris and Brenda Walsh said a seat belt could have saved their son’s life.
“You can’t believe anything like this would happen to him,” Chris said. “He always wore his seat belt in the car with us. I mean, we’d get in the car, and we wouldn’t even get out of the parking spot.
“But somehow, they got out here on the ranch west of town and they got to thinking they don’t need a seat belt. ‘What could happen out here?’ they thought.”
Brenda said she doesn’t want her son’s death to be in vain. She hopes the tragedy will help raise seat belt awareness.
“I don’t want to sit at another funeral because some kid, some adult, someone wasn’t in a car seat or a seat belt,” Brenda said. “I don’t want this death to be for nothing.
“If another kid in this community dies, then Russell died for nothing.”
The Walshes added that they’re also thinking of Sheridan in this difficult time.
“We don’t blame him in any way, shape or form,” Brenda said. “He’s like a son to us. It was an accident that nobody knows any answers as to why it happened … it just happened.”
The Walshes said it has been hard to deal with the shock of losing Russell, but their spirits have been bolstered by the nighttime sky.
Chris and Brenda said Russell was a stargazer.
“I taught him a lot about that sort of thing,” Chris said. “That’s where he got his interest.”
Chris said he walked outside a few hours after Russell died, and looked up at the Big Dipper — the first constellation Chris had ever pointed out to Russell.
“I was standing out there on the sidewalk and I’m watching, looking at the Big Dipper and I said, ‘C’mon, kid, give me a sign you’re OK.”
Chris’ eyes turned red and filled with tears, and Brenda continued for him.
“And, here comes a shooting star, through the Big Dipper directly toward our house, directly toward where Chris was standing,” Brenda said.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Chris said sobbing.
“I’ve always been a skeptic about that sort of thing,” Brenda said. “But, I’m learning. If you open your heart and your mind and your eyes and you listen, miracles are there.”