Libertyville stands strong after 4 students die

Two months may have passed since two students and a recent graduate at Libertyville High School in Chicago’s northern suburbs died, but students continue to demonstrate how they can stand strong with their community and help those who were closely affected.


Maddy, volunteering in the fight against brain cancer, May 2015 (Facebook)

The day after Thanksgiving, Madelynn McInerney and Zachary Neir died from different medical conditions. Maddy was 17 and a junior at the high school; she died from glioblastoma, a series of malignant tumors in her brain. Zachary, 19, graduated in 2016 and died of heart failure due to complications of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

In addition, sophomore Fatima Durrani, 15, died that Saturday in a Milwaukee hospital from liver failure; she was awaiting a transplant. And a fourth student, who swam on a community-based team with several Libertyville students but attended Warren Township High School, Josh Church, passed away on November 16.

Mary Todoric, a spokeswoman for District 128, said the losses over the break were heartbreaking. “We’re kind of processing all of it,” the Daily Herald quoted her as saying. “Maddy was an exemplary student, and her warmth, humor, spirit, and love will continue to be felt.”

The varsity boys’ basketball team, now in the middle of its season, sported shirts with “Maddy Strong” written on them, created by a few of the players’ moms, wrote Jack Kosowski and Luke Ekdahl in Drops of Ink, the student newspaper at Libertyville.

“I feel like the shirts weren’t as much for the team but the community,” they quoted senior Brandon Rule, who played a big part in organizing many of the team’s activities, as saying. “It was an act to show that this is bigger than basketball and bigger than the team. The guys really wanted to show that we are a community first and a team second.”

The deceased students’ initials were also written on team wristbands. It was an honor to play in remembrance of the students, Mr Rule was quoted as saying, and wearing the shirts “brought the team closer in the sense that now we play for an even bigger purpose than before.”

Maddy played on the girls’ bowling team last year, and members of that team, in particular, had memories to share.

“It was a very somber time,” the paper quoted coach Lindsay Siegel as saying about the student deaths. “But I think once we got it out there, then we could really feel the energy and we could feel Maddy’s energy, and everybody picked up on that. The team bonded and it helped us introduce some of the newer girls to the team as the older girls took them under their wings.”

The girls’ bowling team took some time to remember Maddy and deal with her loss in their own way—in addition to the grief counselors, therapy dogs, and “paper crane” project.

“Our first match of the year was against Warren, and [athletic director Briant] Kelly came and talked to us,” the paper quoted Ally Doherty, a team captain, as saying. Also, “one of the social workers, Mr [Greg] Loika, … talked to us about how losing a friend is hard, and how there is a lot of support around us. And Mr Kelly let us take a moment of silence, in honor of Maddy.”

I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind.
Some come from ahead and some come from behind.
But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see.
Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!

—Dr Seuss

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.