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Local School ‘Devastated’ By Notre Dame Student’s Death

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Declan Sullivan

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MUNDELEIN, Ill. (STMW) – Faculty, family and students at Carmel Catholic High School were mourning the loss Thursday of Declan Sullivan, a 2008 graduate who died Wednesday when the tower from which he was filming a Notre Dame football practice fell over.

The entire Sullivan family is deeply involved with Carmel.

In addition to Declan, 20, who was a junior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in marketing, his sister, Gwyneth, is a 2010 Carmel graduate and a Notre Dame freshman; his brother, Macarten, is a member of Carmel’s Class of 2013.

“The entire Carmel community is devastated by the news of Declan’s death,” said Principal Lynne Strutzel. “During his Carmel years, Declan was a bright, enthusiastic and academically talented student.”

Meanwhile, Catherine Swanson, a 2008 Carmel graduate and close friend of Delcan who is traveling in Ireland, said by e-mail Thursday night that she will never forget her friend.

“Declan was the most fun-loving person I’ve known. He was always positive and could put everyone in a good mood,” Swanson said. “Declan always did what he loved, and wanted and convinced others like me to do the same. It is a shame that we have lost such a great spirit, but his impression is everlasting, and he will not be forgotten.”

Swanson expressed sadness that his dreams were cut short.

“The last time I talked to Declan, he was so excited for the future he was preparing for,” she said. “I just wish we would have been able to see his life fulfilled.”

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said weather conditions at the Fighting Irish football practice Wednesday were “unremarkable” before “a pretty extraordinary burst of wind” toppled the tower.

At a news conference on the South Bend, Ind., campus Thursday afternoon, Swarbrick said he did not know who made the decisions to hold practice outdoors and to have Sullivan and at least one other camera operator in separate video towers on the second day of a windstorm that hit the Upper Midwest with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Strutzel said Sullivan was very involved in Carmel’s fine arts programs and was a member of the sophomore football team and freshman volleyball team.

“Our prayers and deepest sympathies are with Declan’s parents, his sister Gwyneth, his brother Macartan, ‘Mac’, and his other family members, friends, teachers and fellow alums. We share in the family’s grief during this profoundly difficult time,” Strutzel said.

School officials said Declan was loved by faculty and students alike. He took Honors and AP classes and excelled. In addition to his academic success and athletic interests, he was a four-year member of Marching Band, jazz band, concert band and wind ensemble.

“Declan was the type of high-energy student who could be counted on to do a good job. He was someone who would never let you down,” said David Wiebers, director of Band Activities/Music Education. “I guess I could say that he was a true ‘Carmel Kid’ — an academically talented young man who respected others, reached out beyond himself, approached life aggressively and strove for excellence. Declan was certainly full of life.”

Assistant Athletic Director Kevin Nylen called the former student “a really hard worker with a great sense of humor. He was very intelligent, brilliant actually, and he was just fun to be around.”

“Declan was a very special student of mine — someone I got to know very well,” said Christine Hartnett, a guidance counselor at Carmel. “He was just an awesome person — friendly, hilarious, brilliant — just a great combination.

“He was very easy to talk to and so appreciative of any advice or help I could offer him,” she added. “He always walked into my office with a smile on his face, and he looked to the positives in everything.”

Hartnett said that when Declan graduated, “he took the time to give me a hand-written thank-you note, as well as flowers. I will truly miss him, and my heart goes out to his family.”

Carmel spokeswoman Dawn Jenich said the faculty gathered prior to the start of school Thursday to “pray and share the tragic news.” Social workers and guidance counselors were available for grief counseling, she said.

At the beginning of the school day during the school’s opening prayer, students and faculty prayed for Declan and the Sullivan family, followed by a moment of silence, Jenich said.

The sophomore football team, of which Macarten is a member, gathered in the Chapel for a team prayer and to discuss ways in which the team could help the family.

The entire sophomore football team will be attending the wake and funeral, officials said. Arrangements are pending.

An investigation of the death involves Notre Dame security police, university personnel and the Indiana Office of Safety and Health.

Sullivan’s uncle, Mike Miley, said the family has many questions about the accident, but for now he wants to remember and celebrate his nephew’s life.

Miley said he is certain there are “many questions” the family is raising with the university, and “there are likely to be more.”

In a haunting tweet before the practice, Sullivan noted the predictions of hazardous weather.

“Gusts of wind up to 60 mph well today will be fun at work … I guess I’ve lived long enough,” he wrote.

According to standard operating procedures of “hydraulic scissor lifts” like the one Sullivan was on when the accident occurred, the platforms are not supposed to be operated when winds are in excess of 20 to 28 mph.

Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesman Marc Lotter said Thursday that the agency had an investigator on the scene in South Bend. He said it was too early to say when the agency, which has the authority to levy fines, might release a report.

Swarbrick said medical staff, trainers, coaches and players responded immediately, and campus security police were on the scene within three minutes. Players and assistant coaches were sent back to the practice fields, while Swarbrick and coach Brian Kelly stayed at the scene with Sullivan.

Sullivan was responsive to some commands as he was being prepared to be put into an ambulance, Swarbrick said.

Sullivan was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend and died shortly arriving.

University officials contemplated not playing Saturday’s game against Tulsa at Notre Dame Stadium, but decided against that. The traditional Friday luncheon and pep rally were canceled, but the game will go on, dedicated to Sullivan’s memory. Players are expected to wear decals on their helmets honoring Sullivan.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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