As the search continues for an Edgewater man who has not been seen since entering the fast-moving Colorado River in a kayak on Sunday, colleagues and friends in Denver recall him as a tireless champion of people in need.
Ari Harms, who has a master’s degree in international human rights from the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies, has worked for several Denver nonprofits where he helped people secure housing and other resources.
“Ari has that sense of passion for the underserved and those without a voice in the community,” said Ron Buzzard, managing director of the ECDC African Community Center of Denver. “His sense of justice coupled with his sense of joy for life, it’s hard to find that kind of spirit within an individual. Ari had it and he expressed both easily.”
Harms worked a couple of stints at the African Community Center, for about a year in 2017 and again in 2021, Buzzard said. Colleagues and friends at the nonprofit are shaken over his disappearance.
“Our staff is hurting, we are grieving,” Buzzard said.
Harms, whom the Grand County Sheriff’s Office said is in his mid-30s, left the center in February and brought his skills and expertise to Hope Communities in Denver.
Sharon Knight, president and CEO of the nonprofit, said Harms has had a huge impact in the brief time he has worked there.
“Some of our clients who he worked with started crying when they heard he was missing,” Knight said. “He is a caring person and he is well-versed in resources in the community. He is an extraordinary person, he lives a life of purpose and he certainly has done that with his ties to us.”
Knight said the Hope Communities’ team is “grieving at this point, but also praying for a safe return.”
Lizz Mueller, of Denver, met Harms about seven years ago and they became close friends.
“He’s kind of like a little brother to me, really,” Mueller said.
Mueller described Harms as a well-known member of Denver’s LGBTQ community, a drag king who loves to perform and entertain at Denver shows under the name Simon Paul.
Harms had transitioned from female to male, Mueller said, and he identified as male.
“He … had done burlesque before he started his transition,” Mueller said. “He was really vivacious, it’s why we got along so well. He could make people feel comfortable and welcome; he was so smart, so talented, he had an incredibly talented side to him.”
“This is devastating to the Denver queer community, it’s very tragic,” Mueller said.
The two friends had plans to go out Tuesday night to a Queer bar on East Colfax Avenue for drinks and companionship, but that didn’t happen, Mueller said.
Instead, Mueller, who described herself as a clairvoyant, got together with four other people who knew Harms and they channeled him, she said.
“He sent us a lot of messages, we really needed that,” Mueller said. “It brought us a lot of closure.”
Mueller said Harms was an experienced kayaker and that he used a life vest when he went on the water. On his recent mountain trip, he went alone.
“He wanted to have an escape into nature and he loved doing it,” she said. “I’ve cried a lot. I’m going to cry every day for a while.
“The message people should take away from this is tell people you love them, and live your life to the fullest.”
Harms was last seen Sunday getting into the river from a campground in Hot Sulphur Springs, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Office.
On Thursday, Harms’ backpack and “personal belongings” were found in the water, the sheriff’s office said. Search efforts continued Friday in the Byers Canyon area and downstream and will continue on Saturday.
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