Candlelight vigil held for victim
By Nathan Hardin
KANNAPOLIS — Daniel Cooper’s 18th birthday had a large turnout.
More than 75 met at the A.L. Brown school rock Saturday night. They lit candles and sang “Happy Birthday.”
But there was no birthday cake. And few dry eyes.
Instead, each person in attendance lit a candle in honor of the teenager who was shot and killed Monday afternoon during an apparent robbery.
Several friends stood in front of the rock and gave emotional speeches about how Daniel had affected their lives. The rock had been painted purple and orange, Daniel’s favorite colors.
Before lighting candles, friends and family members released dozens of balloons, most of which were purple and orange. Some read “Happy Birthday.” Others, “R.I.P.”
A pair of balloons wrapped around a nearby power line during the release. The rest disappeared quickly.
The vigil began about 8 p.m. It had been organized by classmates who knew him, and even some who didn’t.
Daniel loved moto-cross and skateboarding, friends said. He was set to graduate this spring.
Tanner Gulledge said not a lot has changed since Kannapolis Police came to his house to tell him that his best friend had been shot Monday afternoon.
“It’s just it didn’t feel real,” he said. “It still doesn’t feel real.”
Gulledge called the last week of school “restless.”
School officials placed a bouquet of flowers in Daniel’s chair in each class to honor the senior.
“It’s been really emotional,” Gulledge said. “Not a lot of people have been going to class.”
Laura Tucker, Daniel’s mother, picked up a present for Daniel on her way back from a recent trip.
She never got a chance to give it to him.
“We sent him balloons for his birthday,” she said, smiling through tears Saturday night.
Relatives from out of town, as well as Daniel’s father, Todd Cooper, and brother, Steven, attended the vigil.
“He was just a real caring person,” Todd Cooper said. “He treated everybody the way he wanted to be treated.”
Laura Tucker called the vigil special because she got to see her son’s friends tell stories she’d never heard.
“This is very eye-opening for me,” she said. “I had no idea how much he touched everybody else.”
As candle wax dripped down the A.L. Brown rock, and family and friends took their final photos, a gust of wind jolted the trapped balloons free.
“Look,” a friend said, “he stayed around long enough to watch.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.