It would be difficult to find someone who described Alex Ainsworth as anything other than "the nicest person you'd ever meet," his friends and former coaches said Thursday.
None could think of a time when they'd seen the 18-year-old high schooler lose his temper, show signs of drug use, or be disrespectful. He didn't have a reputation for being a troublemaker, despite living what they described as a "troubled" life.
Instead, they called him "unbelievably polite," "respectful," "a teddy bear" and, repeatedly, "kind."
"You could tell he'd come from pretty rough build, but he was so good," said Matt Brickell, who coached Alex in wrestling at Coronado High School last year before retiring. "All the way around he was a good kid, but I didn't know his other life."
From what Brickell understood, Alex didn't have a steady home, a fact confirmed by volunteer coach Stephen Dabelko, who mentored Alex on and off the mat. Alex's parents, who are separated, live in Colorado Springs, but he seemed to jump between staying at home, in foster care and with extended family, Dabelko said.
Alex also had moved from school to school over the last four years, even enrolling for a time in Job Corps, an education and job training program for young adults. He'd told Dabelko recently that he'd been expelled from Coronado for poor attendance, which he credited to car trouble. A spokeswoman did not return calls to verify that.
Dabelko had recently offered Alex a place in his home and was helping him buy a truck when he learned the teen and another male had been seriously wounded in a shooting on Oct. 26 outside of Family Dollar on East Boulder Street. Alex died Monday.
A GoFundMe page reportedly set up by Ainsworth's aunt said he was shot four times, the bullets tearing through his diaphragm and pericardium, which encloses the heart.
Ainsworth's mother has set up a second GoFundMe page.
"I'm heartbroken," Dabelko said. "The kid just needed love and a safe place and he would have been just fine."
Because Alex's death came at a time when the city was grappling with three other shootings, the details were initially muddled, Dabelko said.
One person told him Alex was shot at the house party on Soft Breeze Way on Sunday that injured three people. Then came the shooting of three teens outside a Mexican restaurant on Austin Bluffs Parkway that killed Nate Czajkowski.
A third person confused Alex with 24-year-old Conte Smith-El, who was found shot to death in a business on Platte Avenue Monday.
Police have released few details in any of the shootings, and no suspects have been identified, though they did say they were searching for a silver sedan in Alex's killing. In the absence of facts, rumors have circulated, linking all of the shootings to gang activity, drugs or crime.
None of them fit Alex, Dabelko said. He'd never known the teen to hang out with "the wrong crowd" or get into serious trouble.
"I don't think he was involved in anything to where someone would want to shoot him,' Dabelko said. "He was very forthcoming; very respectful."
Brickell agreed, without hesitation.
"I don't even know the story, but I just can't imagine he would be trying to do anyone any harm," Brickell said. "If it came out that he was trying to help someone or was intervening to help them, I could see that."
It wouldn't be out of character for Alex to rush to someone else's aid, former classmate Benjamin Mora said. In 2014, while the two were in JROTC together at Doherty High School, Mora said Alex helped an elderly woman who fell off of a bus.
"He was just that kind of person," Mora said. "His life wasn't easy but he made the best of it."
Alex wanted to join the Army, Dabelko said. He sometimes attended Bible studies with Dabelko's son and was recently "saved." He wrestled.
Alex joined the season late but learned fast, his coaches said.
He nearly made it to state, falling short one match, but was instrumental in beating rival Pine Creek.
"What was particularly exciting, though, was not only Alex winning the match but that he was using techniques we had just taught him days before," current Coronado wrestling coach Stephen Burak said. "He was so coachable!"
Alex's plans to wrestle as a fifth-year senior this year were derailed by his reported expulsion, but Dabelko said it didn't dampen his dreams.
Alex said he would finish his diploma at an alternative school. He worked to support himself. He talked of getting his own apartment. "He just wanted to get out of here," Dabelko said. "It's funny how people who come from nothing seem to be the ones willing to give everything."
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