Death of Centennial High student investigated

Death of Centennial High student investigated

CHAMPAIGN — Centennial High School counselors and Champaign police were bracing for what Monday would bring in the wake of the tragic death late Saturday of a sophomore.

The details of what happened to Luke Miller, 15, who was apparently attacked by fellow students earlier in the week, are still being gathered by Champaign police.

Late Sunday afternoon, the department issued a news release calling it “an active death investigation.”

“It is anticipated that Champaign Police will have no further comment ... until sometime after the autopsy has been completed,” Deputy Chief Troy Daniels said. “Although preliminary information suggests this to be an isolated incident, additional Champaign Police officers will be present at Centennial to speak with students and assist with ensuring the safety of students throughout the day.”

The standout archer, fisherman and outdoorsman is being remembered as a “really nice kid” and a leader among fellow archers.

The only child of Ryan and Heather Miller, Luke died at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis at 9:53 p.m. Saturday after being taken there by ambulance from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

Daniels said Champaign police were sent to Carle at 8:47 a.m. Saturday to investigate a report that Luke was receiving medical treatment. An autopsy is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday at the St. Louis City Medical Examiner’s office. Champaign police detectives will be present.

Luke’s parents are coaches for the Centennial High School archery team, started in 2013.

The Millers gathered Sunday afternoon in an informal meeting with archers and teachers at Kenwood Elementary School, where Centennial archers practice. There were lots of tears and hugs.

A few archers from Central High School also turned out, looking for answers, meaning and consolation in what many have called a senseless death.

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson declined to answer questions about what happened to Luke but said the school’s crisis team would be in place Monday for students.

“Obviously this comes as a shock. Luke was a special kid and he’s going to be missed by all. He was a big part of the Centennial community and loved, especially by those on the archery team with whom he was quite close. He was also on the golf team,” Johnson said.

School board president Chris Kloeppel said school board members are also aware of Luke’s “tragic” death and that he became aware Saturday morning that an incident had occurred. 

“There is an ongoing investigation. We met with the police department,” he said.

State’s Attorney Julia Rietz cautioned against the spread of rumor until the investigation is complete.

“I am aware (of the death) and am awaiting the results of the investigation to see if we have a role in this,” she said of her office.

Longtime Centennial teacher and Champaign city council member Greg Stock put out the following message on Facebook Sunday: “I have spent over half of my life at Centennial and literally more time in the land of yellow tile than any other place on Earth. I have spent sleepless nights worrying about its people, both old and young, its present and its future. Today, perhaps more than any other, I am just sad and terribly worried about what tomorrow will bring.”

The death is a second major blow to the close-knit Champaign archery community in two years.

In March 2015, Greg Schweighart, 55, coach of the Jefferson Middle School archery team, died from cancer. Many Centennial and Central archers got their start in the nascent sport at Jefferson.

Mr. Schweighart’s daughter, Bailee Schweighart, 17, a Centennial senior, was among them.

She called Luke Miller “a big part of our team.”

“After my dad developed cancer and got sick, (Luke) and his family got really close to me and my family. They were there for us. Since then, he’s been a big part of archery, and honestly, is one of our best archers.”

Luke ranked first among 328 boys of all ages at the Feb. 25 Schlarman Shootout in Danville with a score of 294 out of a possible 300. It was his personal best in an impressive archery career that started in middle school.

“I remember the first day Luke came in the program. He was shooting arrows and they were bouncing off the floor and hitting the target,” said Jeff Reinhold, who helped coach at Jefferson and is now coaching Central archers. “He matured into quite a good shot.”

Schweighart called her teammate a dependable friend and his parents “fantastic coaches.”

“Not only does he show up and do what he needs to do, he’d help other archers and give tips,” said Schweighart. “Even if he got first or second, he’d make it about the other archers. He was a really selfless kid.”

She said he was also a talented artist who recently had one of his pieces displayed in a show at the Illini Union. He also played golf and baseball. But mostly, he loved to fish.

“Fishing always topped it all,” said Schweighart.

Christine Creek, friend of the family and a coach for Central’s archery team, said she learned from Heather Miller Saturday that Luke had apparently been beaten up by more than one young person at school Friday but reportedly said nothing about it to others right away.

On Saturday, as the team prepared to attend an archery tournament in Chicago at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, Luke woke up and was ill.

His parents took him to Carle where doctors determined that he would be better served at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis.

At Roberto Clemente Saturday morning, hundreds of archers, coaches and family members had a moment of silence and prayer for their teammate as he underwent treatment.

Eric Boland’s son Trevor, 15, is a classmate and friend of Luke. Boland said parents of the Centennial archers were told Saturday afternoon when the team returned about 3:30 p.m. what little information they had about Luke, listed in critical condition at that time.

Boland said his son took the news of his friend’s death hard learning it Sunday morning.

“We didn’t really say a whole lot for quite a while. I don’t know how to do this,” he said of the helpless feeling of comforting a child over such a huge loss.

“We knew late last night from another friend and we were up all night thinking and praying about it,” Boland said.

Centennial postponed a winter sports banquet scheduled for Sunday.

“Regardless of how deep the competitive feeling is for Central vs. Centennial, it’s important they are supportive of each other now,” said Creek, who also teaches at Central.

“They just need to be aware that violence is not the answer to anything and if they know their friends are struggling with bullying or anything, they need to stand up for each other and not be afraid to stand up against bullies,” she said.

Luke played Little League baseball in Champaign and his parents were heavily involved, from coaching to field maintenance.

Chad Barringer coached Luke during a 12-year-old all-star tournament.

“The biggest thing I remember about Luke was post-baseball,” Barringer said. “No matter where I’d see him, Luke would go out of his way to come up to you and talk to you. He always had a moment for you.”

Many of Luke’s youth teammates were in attendance at Champaign Central’s preseason baseball banquet on Sunday afternoon, where Barringer and Delroy Robinson — another longtime youth coach — spoke of the family’s dedication to the sport.

“His parents did so much,” Barringer said. “And you always saw Luke out there helping his parents get the field ready.”

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