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Sidewalk memorial growing to honor teens killed in West Valley City shooting

Posted at 5:11 PM, Jan 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 00:23:01-05

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — A sidewalk memorial continues to grow after a deadly shooting in West Valley City Thursday morning.

It’s hard to comprehend what led to the violence that took two teens' lives and left a third critically wounded.

Paul Tahi, 15, and Tivani Lopati, 14, passed away Thursday. Ephraim Asiata, 15, remained in the hospital in critical condition as of Friday.

WATCH: Family friend selling merchandise to raise money for Asiata family

All three boys were football players at Hunter High School.

Coach Bryan Slack was close to them, so much so that over the years, they’ve become family.

“It was more than football; they were just good kids. They really… they really were just good kids,” he said.

Slack says he was closest to Lopati.

“He was just always so willing to help, always had a smile on his face. Just a wonderful kid," he said.

READ: How to help families of West Valley City shooting victims

Slack lives right down the street from where the shooting happened.

“I understand that teenagers are going to have their squabbles, but you don’t expect anything like this,” he said.

He heard the gunshots and thought it was a car sputtering, thinking there’s no way shots were being fired so early in the morning.

“When we heard the names, it felt too close to home. My heart just breaks for these families,” he said.

Police said a dispute between two groups of students from rival schools resulted in this tragedy.

Four teens were originally arrested — all ages 14 and 15. Three have been released, but one 14-year-old remains in custody and is believed to be the gunman. None of their names have been released because they are minors.

In the wake of the tragedy, many have wondered: How did the 14-year-old suspect obtain a gun?

West Valley City Police are processing and tracing the weapon to find out.

They say the process takes time, just like the healing the community needs right now.

“I think it’s helpful for me to cope at least, just to pay my respects, and see just how much love people had for these boys that have been affected,” said Carson Earl, who coached all three boys.

“They were a light that shined in our community. We love them and they’re going to be missed, but they’ll never be forgotten,” Slack said.

At the latest update, the Granite School District said Asiata's family is asking for prayers for his recovery.

The Granite School District is offering grief counseling for students who attend Hunter High School and Hunter Junior High.