(Mariah Noble | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friends of Joshua Belen gathered to remember him Monday night, after he was shot and killed Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. During the gathering, Belen's friends released blue and purple balloons in his memory.

Kearns • Two days after police found the body of a man shot to death near the Olympic Oval in Kearns, about 50 of his friends gathered to remember him.

Unified Police Detective Ken Hansen said Monday that the victim was Joshua Belen, 20, of Salt Lake City.

Officers found Belen’s body in the rink’s north parking lot about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

“The initial cause does appear to be gunshots,” Hansen said.

Belen had been staying with Kayla Langlois and her family in Kearns, she said at Monday night’s vigil in the parking lot where he died. Her house was his “safe place,” she said, thinking about Saturday night, the last time she would see him.

“He actually left our house at about 10 p.m. with his big, old goofy smile on his face, and said, ‘I’ll be back. See you guys later,’” Langlois said. “And he never came back.”

Friends at the gathering said Belen steered clear of drama, and if there was a conflict, he’d work quickly to resolve it.

“He deserved to be celebrated,” Langlois added.

Those at the gathering brought purple and blue balloons that they released into the sky. Afterward, they lit candles that would surround a sign decorated with his name.

(Mariah Noble | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friends of Joshua Belen gathered to remember him Monday night, after he was shot and killed Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Sky Byrne, top left, paints a sign with his name on it. During the gathering, Belen's friends released blue and purple balloons in his memory.

Belen had mostly grown up in California and Las Vegas, but he moved back to the Salt Lake area in recent months, friends said. He’d bounced back from a troubled past, said Thomas McOsker, who saw Belen as an older brother.

Belen was constantly making jokes, and he was “one of the realest people around,” McOsker said.

His mother, Elisabeth Belen, who spoke to The Salt Lake Tribune by phone from California, said that her son “decided to take his own path,” bouncing around from one friend‘s house to the next.

“He had his issues, as any teenager would,” she said, “but he was, all around, a very good kid. He did have a big heart, and he tried to help his friends.”

Belen’s ex-girlfriend Jorja Pope said he was the kind of person who, “even if he had $5 to his name, if you were hungry, it was yours.” He was giving, she said, and didn’t ask for help.

McOsker and Pope want justice to find whoever was responsible for Belen’s death. “They took the greatest person we know,” Pope said.

“It feels like they took a family member away,” McOsker added.

Belen leaves behind two half-siblings and two stepsiblings, his mother said, and he was especially close to his sister. The family plans to cremate his body and hold memorials for him — one in Utah and one in Las Vegas.

Elisabeth Belen said the family had set up a fundraising page to help with the cost of his cremation.

(Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Belen) Joshua Belen.
(Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Belen) Joshua Belen.

Details of the investigation were scarce, and the people close to Belen were looking for answers, Langlois said. She said she didn’t know what happened, whether it was “premeditated, if it was some accident. But it’s not like him to have altercations. He didn’t have arguments. He was a problem solver.”

“This wasn‘t a freak accident, a misfire of a gun. The kid was murdered,” Langlois said. “There’s no two ways about that. He was a good kid — a really good kid.”

People at the gathering Monday night wrote down memories of their friend to send to his mother. Some cried. Others gathered in small groups to talk about his life.

Police are investigating of the shooting, including whether it could have been gang related, Hansen said.