COLORADO SPRINGS — It's been almost one year since a local 17-year-old's life was cut short. Riley Whitelaw was killed while working at a Colorado Springs Walgreens last June. Today, her mother wants Riley remembered for the positive impact she had on others, and not the tragic crime that took her life.
Courtenay Whitelaw will always be a proud mom. Today, she thinks about all of the things Riley should have been doing, and the life Riley was supposed to live. She has no doubt Riley would've continued to make an impact, but instead, she's left with the memories her only child left behind.
Riley was known for being artistic. She loved to draw, danced in the color guard for her school's marching band, and even learned to play guitar. Her mom Courtenay said she was kind and caring.
“She just had this way of helping others. She was hard working in the classroom, but also was easy to work with, easy to love, made others feel seen, respected,” said Courtenay.
She said although Riley was quiet and never wanted to be in the spotlight, but she still had a way of leaving her mark on others.
“Whatever she was going to do in life, she was gonna make an impression, even if it was a quiet impression. She did not need to be front and center of anything,” said Courtenay.
She said Riley was also the one to brighten up a room when she walked in, and was known around school by her nickname.
“Her principal calls her ‘smiley Riley.’ She always had a smile on her face, even if she was having a bad day,” said Courtenay.
Her mother's heart aches that her daughter is now remembered for the crime that took her from this community.
“When you Google her name, it's not for the good reasons, or the good human that she is. It's for the really horrific details, and I don't think myself my family or friends ever wanted that,” said Courtenay.
Courtenay wants Riley to be remembered for the impact she made in the community, saying Riley is so much more than what happened to her.
“It’s just hard to know that she doesn’t get to be here to show you who she is, because I sometimes feel like there are no words that I can say about her, that really exemplify who she really is,” said Courtenay.
Six months before Riley passed away, Riley also convinced her mom to get a matching tattoo with her that Riley drew and designed. It was the first tattoo Courtenay has ever gotten. Now, she also had another tattoo with Riley’s initials and hobbies and interests.
Those tattoos, and several necklaces, including one with her daughter's ashes, are reminders that Riley is never far away.
“I keep her very close. She's never very far from my thoughts. Proud mama,” said Courtenay.
Riley continues to make an impact across Colorado. On Tuesday, a bill was also signed into law to redact information of child victims and witnesses from public criminal records. It's called Riley's Law.
“I personally call it Riley's Halo, because this is her extension of taking care of others continually, and I think that anybody that knows her knows that's her to a T,” said Courtenay.
Courtenay said no parent is ever prepared to go through life without their child, but she'll do it in Riley's name.
“I survive every day. I do every day for Riley,” said Courtenay.
Courtenay said the support from Academy D20 has been amazing, and it’s made her feel like she's not going through this alone. She also said Riley’s friends have been instrumental in helping to get this bill passed. They testified at the capitol about how harmful it was to see Riley's name and photo shared.
Last week, Riley’s mom also walked across stage for what would have been Riley's graduation. She accepted Riley's diploma and carried Riley's favorite stuffed animal across the stage. The crowd for Air Academy High School stood in support of her and her daughter before she walked off the stage.
Courtenay said her and Riley had just gone on a college tour before she passed and Riley was considering studying genetics research.
Since her passing, a scholarship fund has been created in her memory. It's called the Riley I Whitelaw Memorial Scholarship Fund, and it’s now a local nonprofit. So far, they've given out two scholarships for 2,000 for students in performing and visual arts. If you'd like to donate or want to find out more information, click here.
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