SALEM — At first, the group of nearly 100 teens chatted easily, enjoying the warm summer night. But when Nathan Tyler Haun's parents approached a makeshift memorial set up by a tree, they fell silent.
Some wept. Others bowed their heads.
Mostly, they just looked stunned.
"I know he would want us to celebrate his life, not the ending of it," Preston Haun said of his son, weeping as he held his wife Tammy at his side. "I know he's here with us right now."
The group stood quietly in a tight, candlelit circle for several minutes Tuesday night, their classmate's family at the center. The vigil lasted nearly an hour, as one by one the group began reminiscing, calling out what they will remember about the boy they said could make anyone smile.
"When the mood was down, no matter what, Nate was always there to crack a joke and make everyone smile," said classmate Brandon Moon. "I don't know why anyone would want to do something to a boy like this. I don't know."
Utah County sheriff's investigators say they are frustrated with the lack of cooperation they're receiving in their investigation into whether a 17-year-old boy was killed intentionally or accidentally.
Nathan Haun, of Spanish Fork, died as a result of being hit by a vehicle. His body was found by a passer-by early Saturday at 2000 W. Arrowhead Trail, an area east of I-15 between Salem and Payson.
What detectives don't know is whether the teen was hit on purpose or by accident on the dark street. Either scenario is plausible, according to investigators.
Nathan Haun had been at a house party earlier with other juveniles, and alcohol was present. He got into an argument with another party-goer over a girl, according to the sheriff's office. Whether that argument later escalated to a hit-and-run was unknown Tuesday.
Although several who were at the party have been vocal on social media, many potential witnesses have refused to talk to police. Detectives believe the teens are afraid they'll get in trouble or get someone else in trouble.
But from the few witnesses who have talked, Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon said they know there are rumors and information going around that is completely false.
Cannon said deputies cannot arrest someone for obstruction of justice for not talking if they don't have anything worth saying and, thus, aren't really withholding information.
"Just being there doesn't mean they know something," he said. "Some of them might think they know something and they really don't. And that might sound really odd. But when they get the crowd mentality going, I think part of the problem is some of them know a little bit of fact — a very little bit — and they embellish it with what they think or the rumor that's going around, so they think they really know something and maybe they're afraid to talk to us for no reason at all."
The best thing for those teens to do is talk to police so truth and fiction can be sorted out, he said.
Other juveniles may be afraid they'll be in trouble if they admit they were drinking alcohol, Cannon said.
"We take action against that under normal circumstances. These are not normal circumstances," Cannon said. "I don't care if you drank a six-pack. If you know what happened here, tell us."
One person who investigators believe knows something is the driver of the vehicle that hit Nathan Haun. The injuries were such that detectives don't believe the driver could have hit the boy and not known it.
"They'd have to know that they hit somebody. And we can certainly understand why they would be afraid to come forward," Cannon said. "But at the same time we believe they have a moral obligation and a legal obligation to come forward."
Tuesday, the sheriff's office announced a $5,000 reward for information about the teen's death that could lead investigators to the driver or the vehicle that hit him. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff's office at 801-851-4010.
Email: email@example.comTwitter: DNewsCrimeTeam
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company