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Still shaken by their classmate’s death, University of Utah students hold candlelight vigil for ‘remarkable’ friend

ChenWei Guo (Photo courtesy University of Utah)

As the sun set Wednesday evening, students at the University of Utah gathered around a small table that held a framed photo of ChenWei Guo, small paper notes and a vase of yellow flowers.

Tealight candles glowed for a vigil that started in front of the J. Willard Marriott Library on Wednesday evening, two nights after their friend and classmate was killed in an attempted carjacking.

“He was always superhappy,” said Jacob Roberts, who knew Guo through church. “He was never mean to anybody. I never even saw him upset.”

Guo, a 23-year-old from China, had been at the University of Utah for a year before he was shot and killed at the mouth of Red Butte Canyon.

Some students who visited the tribute hadn’t met Guo but were shaken by the shooting at the edge of their campus and the 14-hour manhunt for his suspected killer.

Amandine Akimana, a freshman at the U., hadn’t met Guo but thought she may have seen him a few times around campus.

“It‘s scary and really, really sad because he’s gone,” she said. “He didn’t do anything wrong, but he’s still gone.”

Friends and fellow students wrote notes about Guo and placed them into a maroon pot next to his picture. Within an hour, the bowl was full of brightly colored papers.

The University’s Latter-Day Saint Student Association (LDSSA) planned to assemble the notes into a book for Guo’s family, said Sarah Day, a member of the group. Elena Jin, a family friend, planned to translate the notes for Guo’s family.

Next to the notes, the LDSSA and the Asian American Student Association (AASA) set up a photo of Guo surrounded by candles.

“We felt that [the vigil] was necessary, especially given the sentiment that we heard from so many different people,” said Taylor Checketts, president of the AASA. “Just looking at the turnout, it‘s clear that ChenWei was a remarkable guy.”

More than 500 students walked from the Marriott Library to Presidents Circle. They placed their candles on the steps of the John R. Park Building, a few steps below flowers and another photo of their fallen classmate.

It took nearly 30 minutes for everyone to put their candles on the steps, Day said. Standing in a half-circle around the memorial, everyone sang “Hallelujah,” she said.

Then, in the silence a few minutes later, one person started singing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” and the group sang along.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Day said.

They chose the Park Building although it isn’t in the physical center of campus because it’s seen as the symbolic center of a campus shaken by the killing, Checketts said.

“There’s been this strange feeling on campus,” Day said. “... It’s hard to grasp that. But there’s also this feeling of coming-togetherness. Everybody’s holding each other a little tighter.”

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