Zachary André, who will mark his 16th birthday this week, was entering toddlerhood in December 2007, when two teenage members of New Life Church in northern Colorado Springs were randomly gunned down in a parking lot by a shooter.
His family moved to the city a month later and joined the church.
Zachary now is bonded to the two departed Works’ sisters for the rest of his life.
A project to refurbish the Works Memorial on church grounds will earn Zachary the rank of Eagle Scout and has taught him a lesson he won’t forget.
“I learned that even when people die and are no longer around, it’s valuable to remember them,” he said Thursday, just hours before a hearing before an honor board review of his Scouting career.
It’s easy to forget, he said, that just feet away from where he stood at the memorial grounds, Stephanie and Rachel Works drew their last breath.
A 24-year-old gunman randomly shot the girls and their father, who survived, as they tried to get inside their van that was parked at the back of the church.
“This memorial helps myself and others remember that and not forget it,” said a member of the church’s youth group.
Two faded painted ribbons mark the spaces where the girls’ lives ended that day, but with Zachary’s project, there’s a refreshed look next to the no-longer-used parking spots.
Church leaders installed the tribute to the girls in 2008.
“We knew it was a difficult time in the church’s history,” said Zachary’s dad, Terence André.
But time and weather had deteriorated sections of the memorial to the point that it seemed as sad as the lingering grief from the senseless loss of two promising souls.
Grass and other vegetation around the area had died and was bare in some places, and flagstone slabs placed on top of a concrete storm drain had cracked.
Zachary, a sophomore at The Classical Academy College Pathways online school, said he wanted his work to attain the highest rank in Scouting to be done at the church. He just didn’t know what it would be. Eagle Scout projects must benefit the community, typically an improvement for schools, churches, nonprofit organizations or municipalities.
In talking with church leaders in the spring, the idea of refurbishing the landscaping around the memorial came up and grew on him.
“I’d always known about this memorial, as long as I could remember, and I’d come out here and seen the weeds and broken stone,” he said. “I thought it would be the perfect project.”
Hours and hours of preparation became the most difficult part of the task for Zachary.
“There’s a lot of paperwork, planning and organization you have to do,” he said.
Zachary first developed a proposal, and once approved, raised $500 to pay for the renovation.
He recruited volunteers to extract the old dirt, weeds and expired sod; orchestrated delivery of a weed barrier, fresh dirt, mulch and 7 tons of river rock; and built a team of family and peer workers.
With everything prepared, carrying out the renovation took just one entire day of tough physical labor.
Broken pieces of flagstone became new walkways, and edging was added over the storm drain to keep water out.
Original boulders and two benches dedicated to Stephanie and Rachel remain untouched, with inspiring biblical passages dear to their hearts etched in the stone.
Zachary has known about the memorial since he can remember.
Even though he was just a baby when the tragic shooting occurred, Zachary feels a kinship with Rachel and Stephanie Works.
“I think this will help it to be something that truly honors the victims,” he said of the upgrades.
The project dovetails with the church’s renovation and beautification plans, said Terence André. With new commercial and residential development in the Interquest neighborhood surrounding New Life, the church is sprucing up landscaping around the buildings, has painted the exterior of its buildings and is adding signage that will say, “New Life Commons,” to create a welcoming campus that’s open to all, he said.
The church also has leased some of its land to a coffee shop and a doughnut shop that’s under construction.
Thus, the work on the memorial “aligns with the improvements of the facility that’s going on,” André said.
Some Eagle Scout projects are temporary, but Zachary’s contribution will continue to live on in memory of the Works’ sisters, his dad said.
“It’s meaningful and lasting,” André said.
Another sister, Laurie Works, Stephanie’s twin, witnessed the brutal murders that took place almost 15 years ago. The shooter, who had killed two people earlier that day at a Christian youth training center in Arvada, also wounded two others during his rampage at New Life Church, before a church safety officer shot him. He then killed himself.
Near the 10th anniversary of the installation of the memorial, Laurie Works told The Gazette in 2018 that she only visits the site a few times a year. She said she senses a closeness to her sisters there because on that spot was the last time she saw them alive.
“I feel them here when I come,” she said.