FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. - The aunt and friend of homicide victim Thomas Gwardyak, 18, of Cañon City, talked about his troubled past and promising future.
"I last saw (my nephew) Friday night," said Maria Gochis. "He came over like he usually does, gets something to eat, takes a shower, asks for a cigarette."
Gwardyak's body was found Saturday night near Brush Hollow Reservoir, not far from Penrose, east of Canon City.
The Fremont County Sheriff's Office is investigating the case as a homicide. Autopsy results expected later this week will explain how Gwardyak died.
A former classmate and friend, Kathryn Hendrickson, saw Gwardyak several days before his death..
"He had been telling me how he was trying to get his life together, how he was going to get interviews, how he was trying to get a job," she said.
Gochis said she helped to raise Gwardyak when his parents weren't involved in his life.
"He didn't have a permanent place to go, but he wasn't exactly homeless," she said. "He stayed on the move. He'd just gotten off probation and was ready to move on with his life."
Gochis said Gwardyak was in trouble for minor offenses and failing to appear in court, which led to arrest warrants being issued for him.
"He had asked me to help him get his birth certificate because he lost it," she said. "I had just sent the application off and he was excited about it. He wanted to get an ID and get a job. He was a kid, but he was ready to grow up and start things new."
Gwardyak had many friends, Gochis said, even though he wrote in one of his last Facebook posts that he had no friends.
"His friends were trying to get him to man up and be respectful -- like tough love, you know?" she said. "Because they wanted him to know that, sometimes, they wouldn't be able to be there for him."
Gochis said her nephew leaves a house full of cousins, brothers and sisters who are struggling to understand who killed him, and why.
Hendrickson said he may have been unable to escape a bad crowd he was in -- a crowd that, she fears, includes drug dealers.
"He just got wrapped up in the wrong business, I guess," she said. "He didn't want to be in a bad place anymore. This city has a habit of drugs and it's not that hard to get caught up in it. He wanted to get out of it. It's incredibly sad that he's no longer here."
Gochis, despite her grief, occasionally smiled and laughed when thinking about her nephew.
"He liked roses," she said. "We gave him grief about that. We have pictures of him being clean cut and not wearing a hat and baggy pants like he did in his Facebook photos. He was a good kid."
Gwardyak presented an interesting contrast. He exhibited a tough guy persona on his 11 Facebook pages and appeared clean-cut and wholesome in family photos.
His family has created a GoFundMe page to raise money for his funeral.