Seeking answers in Centennial student's death

Seeking answers in Centennial student's death

CHAMPAIGN — Authorities had little to say Monday about the circumstances surrounding the death of a 15-year-old Centennial High School student.

But classmates of the late Luke Miller shared a powerful message at Monday night's Champaign school board meeting.

Eleven students, from the three Unit 4 schools Luke attended — Kenwood, Jefferson and Centennial — showed up holding red cardboard signs with the words "I've been bullied."

They wanted to be heard as the investigation continued into the death of Mr. Miller.

"I'm here in support of my friend Luke, who was bullied and jumped after school," said Centennial sophomore Nathan Yahnke. "We're here to stop the bullying and the senseless violence."

"I've been bullied since kindergarten. Any time I seek help, teachers or staff usually just say something to the student but don't do anything about it. We want to see action."

It could be weeks before it's known what led to Mr. Miller being pronounced dead late Saturday after he was rushed from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis.

Little new information was revealed Monday:

— With Champaign police on hand, the St. Louis Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy Monday morning. A medical examiner's official told The News-Gazette it's often six to eight weeks before a full report is released to the public.

— Late Monday afternoon, Champaign police announced in a news release that "additional laboratory analysis and testing" is needed following the autopsy. Until then, "a determination as to whether the death was a result of a traumatic injury or medical issue is not possible," police said. "Therefore, no additional comment regarding the cause of death will be made at this time."

— Since Saturday, police said, "numerous tips and information have been provided to detectives, which has resulted in the identification of both factual and fictional information."

— Champaign police said Mr. Miller's death remains "an open, active investigation" and encouraged anyone with information to contact them.

Moment of silence

A day that began with police cars outside Centennial and a makeshift memorial to Mr. Miller at the school flag pole ended with an emotional board meeting.

With district officials abiding by police's request not to speak publicly about Mr. Miller's death, board President Chris Kloeppel opened Monday night's meeting with a brief moment of silence.

"We are struggling with the events that have transpired and are all in various stages and feelings on it at this time," he said.

Board Vice President Amy Armstrong thanked Centennial Principal Greg Johnson and Director of Special Education Elizabeth deGruy, who is in charge of Unit 4's crisis management team, for their efforts over the past two days.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Unit 4 parent Natalie Peterson urged the district to make sure teachers and administrators are getting the support they need to properly address bullying and fights in Champaign schools.

"I've felt really uneasy for years with things I've witnessed, things that are allowed to happen at the school," she said. "... It's a concern, and every year I analyze whether I should send my kids to the schools here or to a private school or to home-school them.

"Every year, I decide to put them through the school system because I felt like everything is going to be OK, but maybe everything isn't going to be OK. I want to love our schools and be proud of them, but at this point, I just have a hard time feeling that way."

A show of hands

Amy Lamb, the mentor and volunteer coordinator at Kenwood Elementary School, addressed the board as well, asking the district to re-examine its punishment policies for kids who defend themselves against bullies.

She brought with her the group of students, who wore red, matching the color of the anti-bullying signs they carried.

"Bullying is an issue, but punishing kids that defend themselves is wrong," she said, before asking the group of students standing behind her: "How many of you have been afraid to ask for help when you've been bullied?"

The majority raised their hands.

Centennial's Alec Campbell, a student ambassador to the school board, thanked the district for the work it had done to prepare for a difficult Monday.

"I thought when I got there it was going to be an awful day, but with the preparations and counseling in place, I have a lot of friends that did seek out and use that," he said.

"Knowing Luke, he was a teammate and a friend. I think the way we're going about this and making sure everyone else can feel like they've had help through this is something I'm glad the school district is taking part of," he said, bringing tears to the eyes of several board members and administrators.

"I know it's been a hard couple of days, and it won't get better fast, but what the district has done so far has helped."

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