Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 | 11:52 p.m.
One by one, the candles were lit, flickering through the courtyard at Green Valley High School.
Over the second floor balcony, a school choir began singing “Amazing Grace,” their collective voices drifting down to more than 1,000 people who gathered to celebrate the life of William Mootz.
Mootz, 17, was supposed to walk across this courtyard on Monday, kicking off his senior year at Green Valley. Instead, this close-knit campus held a candlelight vigil in his honor on Saturday, one day after his body was recovered from a marshy area about a mile from Sam Boyd Stadium.
The Henderson boy went missing on Wednesday after he fell into the Pittman Wash, near Stephanie Street and Sunset Road. Rushing floodwaters caused by the heavy rainfall carried his body away downstream.
More than 600 volunteers, including Green Valley students, Boy Scouts and Red Rock Search and Rescue Team, spent three days and two nights searching for Mootz. One of the volunteers found Mootz’s body Friday morning in the wetlands west of Broadbent Boulevard, two miles from where he was last seen.
Now with the search over, the Green Valley community came together on Saturday to remember and reflect on Mootz’ life.
“It’s hard. It’s just hard,” said the boy’s father, Charlie Mootz, fighting back tears as he described his family’s ordeal over the past week. He thanked all the attendees and community members for their support during the search for his son.
“This community had heart,” Charlie Mootz said, wearing a blue T-shirt and ribbon – William’s favorite color. “People who didn’t even know him came out to help us. It shows us that people care.”
Friends and family described William Mootz as an outgoing youngster who could make anyone smile. A Facebook page in Mootz's honor had more than 3,000 “likes” and hundreds of messages expressing condolences.
Mootz was also a well-rounded student who was deeply involved in the choir and wrestling programs at Green Valley, said Principal Jeff Horn.
“He was just a great kid,” Horn said. “He made you laugh, and he touched a lot of people. He’s going to be missed.”
Horn presented the Mootz family with William’s high school diploma, cords and varsity letters.
“It’s my honor and my privilege to present to you the first graduate of the class of 2013,” Horn said, hugging the family as sobs broke out.
Choir teacher Kim Ritzer had Mootz in her Madrigals and advanced choir classes for the past three years. Mootz helped propel Green Valley’s choir program to its third Grammy Award last year, she said.
“We all loved Will so much,” she said. “We’ll sing for him all this year. He’ll always be in our memory.”
Green Valley sophomore Connor Smith, 15, said he’s only known Mootz for one year, but the young man had a great impact on his life. The fellow choral member recalled being homesick during a competition in Hawaii last year – Mootz was the one who cheered him up, inviting him to go snorkeling, he said.
“He was the first person to help me,” Smith said, tears streaming down his face. “He was so kind. It meant so much to me.”
Mootz lifted all those around him, said Green Valley senior Cameron Osborn, 17. During a tense a cappella audition two years ago; Osborn said Mootz was able to calm his nerves through his light-hearted and easygoing personality.
“He was always able to make people happy,” Osborn said. “He made this school a great place to be.”
Weighing in at 103 pounds, Mootz was a capable wrestler for the Green Valley Gators during his freshman and sophomore year, said Junior Varsity coach Mike Bycraft.
Although a broken arm sidelined his wrestling career, Mootz was still an active member of the wrestling team, Bycraft said. His family was also an integral part of the athletics team, with Mootz’s sister coaching the softball team.
More than 50 current and former Green Valley wrestlers volunteered to help out with the search operation, Bycraft said.
“It was incredible to see the community come together,” said 2011 Green Valley graduate Stephen Berta, 19. “It speaks to the kind of person he was.”
Grief counselors will be at Green Valley on Monday to help its 3,000 students, Horn said. The Mootz family has set up a fund with Nevada State Bank in William’s honor; funds raised would go to the Boy Scouts of America, of which William was a member.