Friends of two Coronado High School students whose bodies were found dumped on a remote county road Sunday morning want Derek Greer and Natalie Partida remembered for who they were, not how they died.
They were "trying to figure things out just like everybody else," said Aily Wright, 15, who, along with the two teenagers, called themselves "the three musketeers."
She'd known Derek since they were very young and befriended Natalie in sixth grade.
Recently, Natalie, 16, and Derek, 15, had developed a reputation for "partying," but they were trying to change that, Wright said. Natalie talked of doing better in school; Derek was weighing college against joining the Marines.
"They were trying to figure out what they wanted their futures to be like but it all caught up to them in a harsh, evil way," Wright said.
The El Paso County coroner has ruled their deaths homicides, but has not said how they were killed, withholding details until after completion of an autopsy in six to eight weeks.
No suspect information has been released.
"I want Derek to be remembered not as someone who died out in the middle of nowhere. He was an amazing, joyful, fun-spirited kid who just wanted to make it somewhere," Wright said.
Wright, and Derek's "best friend" John Kincaid, 15, said they're taking the deaths especially hard considering they both were supposed to be with Derek and Natalie on Saturday night.
Kincaid said Derek had planned to stay at his house, a common occurrence since they grew up "like brothers" - Derek was a couple months older. But Derek sent him a text at 8:06 p.m. saying he was too far away and wasn't coming.
Wright said Derek and Natalie were at her house until about dark Saturday, when they left together.
Their bodies were discovered on the shoulder of Old Pueblo Road less than 12 hours later.
Before the two were identified, Kincaid was still trying to find his friend. He posted a message to Facebook at 9:15 p.m. Sunday asking, "Has anybody seen Derek Greer? If you know anything text me." Derek's mom had called looking for him, Kincaid said.
"He never saw it," Kincaid said. "It bothers me a lot. It hurts because usually he's the one helping me out."
Derek and Natalie were fierce friends, according to those who knew them best.
They frequently interacted on Facebook pages appearing to belong to the two. In one January exchange, Natalie jumped to Derek's defense when friends started teasing him about his profile picture.
"If anyone talked trash to Derek she would lay them out flat," Kincaid said. "She was a strong girl.
"It's such a shame that two awesome human lives were exterminated like they were nothing," Kincaid said.
Kincaid recalled he and Derek often built forts when they were younger in Derek's backyard out of any materials they could find.
Wright reminisced about mud fights in the same backyard.
Derek was just fun to be around, they said.
"If you were sad, I swear this kid would make you happy," Kincaid said.
But Derek, who was a freshman, had been changing the last two years, Kincaid said.
He started going to parties, "at first just to see what it was like," and then more frequently, Kincaid said. Their main group of friends didn't go with him, Kincaid said.
"(Derek) did his own thing," Kincaid said. "He just got in a weird phase and wanted to sit alone in his room."
Many of Derek's and Natalie's friends took to Facebook to call for justice for the two.
Wednesday, Coronado High School Principal Darin Smith sent a message to student body families saying they will have counselors available to help students struggling with the deaths.
Derek and Natalie were the ninth and 10th homicides reported in El Paso County this year, and the first outside of Colorado Springs.
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