Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, June 7, 2013 | 2 a.m.
On Thursday morning, the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center burst into cheers for a gone-but-not-forgotten member of the Green Valley High School family.
William Mootz, 17, died in August 2012 after he fell into the Pittman Wash during a downpour and was pulled away by violent rushing waters. After an extensive search, his body was found in Wetland Parks, three days before he was supposed to start his senior year.
At a candlelight vigil in Mootz’s honor, Green Valley Principal Jeff Horn presented Mootz's family with a graduation cap and a diploma. Mootz, Horn announced that August night, was the first graduate of Green Valley’s Class of 2013.
During Thursday's commencement ceremony, Horn repeated the sentiment. Right before the rest of the graduating Gators walked across the stage, Mootz's photograph was displayed on the Jumbotrons and his name reverberated throughout the arena.
Mootz's sister, Christina, said she was caught up in the moment of the tribute. She said William Mootz received the biggest cheer of any of the Green Valley graduates.
“I wish he was really there, but it was cool that the entire arena just erupted in applause. People started to realize that his picture was up there and started pointing and chanting, 'Will,'” said Christina Mootz, who was accompanied by her sister, her father and a cousin who flew down from Alaska.
Christina Mootz said Horn had asked her if the school could acknowledge her brother during the graduation.
“I talked to him last week when I was on campus, and he said that the staff wanted to do something simple and sweet and asked me if my family would have a problem with it. I told him that that would be awesome,” she said.
She was pleased by the remembrance.
“I really appreciate that they thought about it and they did something. I'm glad it wasn't extreme. It was short, simple, sweet, and it still held onto the moment of what it was supposed to be for the rest of the class,” Christina Mootz said. “It wasn't a lot. It wasn't too much. It was just enough.”
She also has planned a memorial for her brother.
The adventurous siblings were avid participants in geocaching, a real-world treasure hunt where participants can follow GPS coordinates posted on various websites and pinpoint geocaches, which are hidden containers placed by other participants.
“That was how we spent a lot of time together. We'd be driving somewhere and take my phone and say, 'There's one (geocache) just down the street,'” Christina Mootz said.
Shortly before the summer of 2012 started, the Mootz siblings had planned to hide their own geocaches for other people to find.
“William and I bought a whole set of containers. We bought six of them. We were going to make Harry Potter-themed geocaches,” Christina Mootz said. “We were going to put them out, but we just never got the chance to.”
She and a friend plan to place geocaches in her brother's favorite places in his memory.
“One of my friends met my brother, and we all went out one night. The last thing he said to William was, 'Dude, we need to go geocaching sometime.' They never get the chance to,” she said.
Christina Mootz said she hasn't decided where they're going to hide all the geocaches, but she wants to place one at her brother's favorite skatepark. She also intends to place one at the Sam Boyd Stadium parking lot, where parties set up camp during the search for her brother.
“It's still hard to think about, so I don't dwell on it, but sometimes a location will come to me and I'll write it down,” she said.
Christina Mootz said that she hadn't thought of placing one on Green Valley High School's campus but said she was impressed with how the school celebrated and embraced William Mootz's memory.
“I think it just shows what a family Green Valley is,” she said.