Piled into the back of a pickup truck on Tuesday afternoon, a group of teenagers left the site of a crash that killed a Castle View High School student just hours earlier.
Kyra Connolly, 17, a senior, died in a three-vehicle accident that involved a Douglas County School District delivery truck.
"She was a free spirit," said 17-year-old Aubrey Church. "She always made everybody smile and laugh -- just a genuine person."
Church hugged and talked with friends who had gathered at the scene of the accident in Castle Rock. According to Church, Connolly was the type of person who was always there when a friend needed her.
"She was kind of like the group counselor in a way," she said.
Church, a senior at Castle View High School, met Connolly a year and a half ago. The girls first connected on Instagram, she said. Connolly had reached out to Church, leaving "sweet" comments, which led to texting and ultimately evolved into a friendship.
"Everyone knew her," Church said. "She was so friendly to everyone. I can't name a person that hates her."
The crash that claimed Connolly's life occurred just after 10 a.m. Tuesday at the intersection of Butterfield Crossing Drive and North Sungold Lane, just blocks from the high school.
The driver of the school district truck was transferred to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and later released. A third driver was not injured.
"The preliminary investigation shows Connolly was driving on the wrong side of the road when her vehicle sideswiped another car, and then collided head-on" with the school district truck, the Douglas County Coroner's office said in a news release Tuesday night.
The Castle Rock Police Department is still investigating why Connolly crossed to the wrong side of the road.
In the stretch where the accident happened, Butterfield Crossing Drive is a single-lane road going in both directions. There are no passing zones. The speed limit is 35 mph.
Witnesses recount accident
Tear-stricken neighbors recalled what they had seen and heard that morning.
Nicole Taber said she heard loud screeching before she looked out her kitchen window and saw the crash as it unfolded.
"It's a sight I will never forget," Taber said, "and I just pray that she didn't suffer."
A few houses down, Megan Kauffman said she heard a loud bang, then yells to call 911. She looked out from her porch to see people running down the street.
After she arrived at the scene, Kauffman and a neighbor looked on as people huddled around Connolly's vehicle before emergency responders arrived. Others began to hug and cry, she said.
"It took me a second to register what I was seeing," she said.
Community and students react
Neighbors reported seeing school officials and grief counselors at the scene of the accident within half an hour. The school district also sent its crisis team to the school to provide support for students and staff.
On social media, students used #PrayForKyra and #sabercatstrong to commemorate Connolly.
"Please remember that life is fragile #prayforkyra," wrote a Twitter user.
The school district tweeted: "Our thoughts are with the family of the Castle View student who passed away following an accident near the school today."
Principal Rex Corr, in an email notifying parents about the accident and death, expressed the school's sorrow and sense of community.
"I often talk about how Castle View is a family," he wrote. "This is evident every day in our hallways and classrooms. This is especially true on a day like today. Please take care of one another and know that all of us at CVHS are here to support you."
And Jane Boyd, a junior, recalled how she first met Connolly in math class a couple of years ago.
"She was a pretty carefree spirit," Boyd said. "She had a one-of-a-kind style and dressed like she wanted to and had a one-of-a-kind personality. And you wanted to be around her."
Boyd and other students in the library later in the day shared their grief, shock and disbelief over Connolly's death.
"We kind of expected her to walk through that door and say everything was OK," Boyd said. "I feel like a lot of people our age, we see our peers and ourselves as invincible, like nothing can touch us when something as drastic as this happens. We think it couldn't happen to us or somebody that we knew."