Mahomet pulls together in wake of teen's tragic death

Mahomet pulls together in wake of teen's tragic death

MAHOMET — Jodi Murphy was in the Mahomet-Seymour High School auditorium on Wednesday night. Her freshman son was presenting a memorial scholarship award to a graduating senior.

As John Tyler spoke, his mother scanned the student section.

"I saw several check their phones and break down," she said. "I knew the news that was spreading through the crowd was negative."

Shortly after, the ceremony was cut short as those assembled learned that a junior on the Bulldogs' soccer team, Jacob Hamilton, had died hours earlier in a multi-vehicle chain-reaction accident on U.S. 36 in Douglas County.

Two other junior soccer players were in the vehicle.

Prior to the evening's ceremony, Jodi Murphy had heard about an accident but didn't know any details.

"I didn't share it with J.T.," she said. "He needed to do what he did without distractions."

Sixteen years and one day earlier, while Jodi Murphy was pregnant with John Tyler, an auto/semi accident on Interstate 74 claimed the lives of two Mahomet teenagers: her son Tyler Atkins and Adam Abdel-Haq.

"It's painful to watch and feel again," Jodi Murphy said. "This opens it all back up."

As mother and son left the high school on Wednesday, they made the short trip to the high school soccer field, where an impromptu prayer vigil had been arranged.

"I was absolutely floored when I pulled around the corner and saw the outreach of our community," Jodi Murphy said. "Mahomet is amazing. Complete strangers were showing up.

"We're blessed we live in Mahomet and have the support we have. Unfortunately, we've had a lot of practice lifting each other up."

Mahomet-Seymour superintendent Rick Johnston was among those at the vigil.

"To see teachers and students struggle together puts things in perspective," he said. "What builds a community, what lifts it, is the camaraderie, and that's what sets this place apart."

* * * *

The grieving continued Thursday.

A group from Chicago transported three comfort dogs to help students get through the day, and the school district announced that services would be provided for "as long as needed."

Before the Bulldogs baseball team hosted Bloomington in the afternoon, members took a knee and gathered on the mound during a moment of silence.

Mr. Hamilton's brother, Bradley, is a starter on the team and a senior, set to graduate tonight with his classmates. The ceremony, at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, will go on as scheduled, Principal Shannon Cheek said.

By late afternoon Thursday, an online "Jacob Hamilton Memorial" fund that had been set up on GoFundMe, with a photograph of Jacob tending goal in front of a soccer net, was filled with messages of support and praise.

"With sadness," the page read, "Jacob Hamilton passed away unexpectedly leaving behind friends and family who adored him and a community that is at a loss for words. On behalf of the Hamilton family, and in lieu of flowers, they are requesting a donation to honor his life. All monetary donations will be used to set up a scholarship fund in Jacob's name."

The fund's goal was $1,000. By 9 p.m., it was at $4,965.

* * * *

Long-time neighbor Bryan Perrero literally watched the Hamilton brothers, Jacob and Bradley, grow up.

"They were always outside playing," Perrero said. "Their parents did a good job kicking them outside to the yard to play. They didn't get to stay inside and play video games.

"They were good kids. If they would see you, they would wave. I can't think of better kids or better parents. I think of them like the kids we grew up with."

For Perrero, Wednesday's news brought back the painful memory of losing a classmate shortly after high school graduation from M-S in 1986.

"Mark Davis passed away at the intersection of Prairieview Road and Route 150," Perrero said. "He was on his way to class at Parkland College.

"His accident prompted the (traffic) lights that went in at the intersection."

Fred Kroner is editor of the Mahomet Citizen, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit mcitizen.com.

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