Nearly 100 friends and classmates took part in a vigil Thursday afternoon at Gallagher Park to remember 16-year-old Melanie Koontz, the Benson High School student found dead earlier this week in Cole Creek.
The group gathered with posters and balloons, which they signed with messages to their friend. They circled the park fountain to say a prayer before releasing the balloons.
Friends said it was their way of comforting each other in their time of pain. “Everybody was just all over just crying, they just can't believe that she actually died,” said friend Amber Hoffman. “We just talked to her two days ago, so for her to actually be gone and for it to set in kind of hurts.”
“All I could do is cry and I was shocked I just didn't know to say, I didn't know what to think, I didn't know what to do,” said friend Tabitha Hanzlik.
Police were called to 78th and Blondo Tuesday morning to investigate a possible drowning. When they arrived, they found Koontz's body in Cole Creek below the Blondo Street overpass.
The Koontz family tells Channel 6 News they still can't believe she’s gone. Melanie did well in class and had an infectious smile. She was confident enough to mingle with the various high school cliques. Her family doesn't understand how this happened.
She was described as a classroom leader with an independent streak. Benson principal Anita Baldwin gave reporters a glimpse into Melanie's popularity. "She was an outgoing, gregarious young lady and she had the capability of bringing people into her fold and talking with them and moving onto someone else without hanging onto one specific group."
There are still a number of unanswered questions about what happened to Melanie and how she ended up in the creek. Her family has some theories, but doesn’t want to interfere with the police investigation. Other answers may come from the autopsy or toxicology screen.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Homicide Unit at 402-444-5656.
A memorial fund has been set up at Great Western Bank. Both the visitation and services will be held at Hoy/Kilnoski Funeral Home in Council Bluffs. The visitation will be Sunday May 20th from 2pm to 5pm. Funeral services will be at 10 o'clock Monday morning.