UCCS hosts Day of Healing

Following the deaths of three UCCS students, the university cancelled classes to give students space to come together and grieve.

On Feb. 19, UCCS hosted a day of healing and a Solidarity Walk to provide support and encourage togetherness on campus. Hayden Garcia Gillespie, Student Body President Axel Brown, UCCS Chief of Police Dewayne McCarver and Chancellor Jennifer Sobanet all gave speeches at the end of the walk that promoted unity on campus.

Mia Brown was a 21-year-old senior nursing student at UCCS. She passed away on Feb. 12 following a medical emergency at the rec center.

Samuel Knopp was a 24-year-old senior student studying in the visual and performing arts program at UCCS. He was found dead in a dorm room in the Crestone building on Feb. 16 after shots were reported.

Celie Rain Montgomery was 26 years old and was not enrolled at UCCS. She was found dead with Knopp.

Haden Garcia Gillespie

Gillespie knew Knopp personally and spoke about him. “Sam was one of my very best friends. Ever since I got to school here, he has been the person I’ve spent the most time with. My brother, my roommate and my friend. It warms my heart to see everyone out here today, and we’re all in this together. I just know he’d be happy to see this,” Gillespie said.

He also expressed his solidarity with other students. “To everyone who lost Mia, I know you’re going through the same thing, and I just want everyone to know that I love you, and we’ll get through this together, so thank you all for being here,” Gillespie said.

Student Body President Axel Brown

Brown said that while we are facing difficult times, moments like this truly define our strengths as a community.

“We are here together to mourn, and reflect, a moment in time that I can only describe as one of the most difficult weeks in UCCS history. Thank you for being here, genuinely. I’m glad you’re taking the time to come together with your fellow Mountain Lions,” he said.

In a follow-up interview, Brown and Student Body Vice President Aidan Clark expressed their disappointment in the way the university communicated with students over the past few days.

“A lot of students are coming to Aidan and me regarding the situation — they wanted to know, they want it to be in the now, they wanted the information to protect their sanity and their security on campus,” Brown said.

He said it was demoralizing for them to be unable to provide students with information when students typically rely on him and Clark.

Brown expressed that he viewed the day of healing as a good stepping stone to helping student process and mourn, but he wants to know what the next step is.

“We can’t forget what happened and the impact that it’s had. We can’t just sit back and say ‘alright, we did this thing this one day, now, it’s back to regular business tomorrow,’” Brown said.

He called for administration and faculty to make students feel heard this week. “Students need security. They need safety. Some students have already told Aidan and I they don’t feel comfortable coming to classes this week, or probably ever,” Brown said.

Chancellor Jennifer Sobanet

Chancellor Jennifer Sobanet spoke about the three lost lives on campus.

“It’s hard to speak of, let alone process, the loss of three lives in our community in just one week. My heart is broken for Mia, and for Sam and for Celie. I join in grieving with their family and friends, who knew them and loved them. We will never forget the lives lost,” she said.

Sobanet also acknowledged those who responded to the emergency at the rec center in the moment.

“I want to pause in this moment to thank the students, the faculty and the staff for their heroic efforts to assist Mia, as that situation so quickly unfolded, and for all that happened on Friday morning,” Sobanet said. She also expressed gratitude to the first responders.

Sobanet thinks healing happens in community. “Lean on one another, support one another. When violence enters into our campus, into our home, when it shatters our feeling of safety and of security, and it reminds us of the sanctity and the fragility of life, but these tragedies remind us of our strengths,” Sobanet said.

Chief of Police Dewayne McCarver

Dewayne McCarver thinks the campus will take on this tragedy together and come out stronger as a community. “As painful as this has been for all of us, as you know, UCCS has never seen anything like this, as painful as it has been, this has been incredibly unifying in my eyes,” he said.

McCarver encouraged students to utilize the UCCS and Colorado Springs police as a resource because they are there to support everyone on campus.

“On behalf of the entire Department of Public Safety, we love you and we are here all the way. If you need us, please reach out, and we’re in this together, we will get through this together,” McCarver said.

Flowers were given to Solidarity Walk participants. Photo by Lillian Davis.