Larkin High School social worker Katie Smiley met Jonathan Duran when he was a freshman on the boy’s volleyball team, when she coached. She described him as a “goofy” but also “bright,” someone who showed maturity beyond his age.
He told her he admired her profession, and said “he wanted to be in the helping profession,” perhaps in law enforcement. “He was the type of person who always wanted to help other students,” she said.
He also loved cars and driving, Smiley said, a sad irony given that the 17-year-old died Monday morning after he lost control of his car on eastbound South Street at Alfred Avenue and struck a tree, according to the Elgin Police Department. The crash occurred about 10:45 a.m. and he was pronounced dead at Presence St. Joseph’s Hospital in Elgin.
“His car was his baby,” Smiley said. She would “scold him” like a mother when he would recount his driving stories, she said.
Students and staff at Larkin mourned his death Tuesday. The district crisis team was made available to those who needed help with the news.
“No words can convey the depth of our sorrow over the loss of our student,” Larkin Principal Jamie Crosen said Monday in a note he sent to parents.
Monday night, dozens of students braved the snow and wind to gather at Larkin to remember their fallen classmate. Crosen said a staff member welcomed the group to come into the school.
“I had no reservations with (students holding part of the vigil indoors) whatsoever,” Crosen said.
Members of car groups joined the students, staff and parents at the Monday night vigil, said Wendy Vega, a Larkin student and friend of Duran’s. She described the turnout as “amazing.”
The mood at Larkin was dull and quiet Tuesday, Vega said. She said many students didn’t come to school, either because they were upset by Duran’s death or worried about the school threat that had been posted online Monday night.
“Jonathan was the class clown,” said Vega, 17, who first met him at a freshman transition group. “He would always make everyone smile. Teachers loved him because even if he didn’t do much in class, he didn’t stop others from getting their education.”
“He was incredible, he had so much potential,” added Larkin student Yareli Trujillo, 17. “School is very hard for me at the moment. Everyone is shocked. I pass by his locker (Tuesday) and it hurts a lot.”