ZION, Ill. (STMW) – An 18-year-old Zion-Benton Township High School wrestler died this week from a genetic heart defect, but his legal guardian, his 22-year-old sister, was struck with the outpouring of caring from his friends at the school.

Classmates of Bernard Everitt of Zion made at least a half a dozen wall posters with various pictures from their cellphones and they wrote words to remember him by. His family members always called him by his middle name, Demetrius.

“I didn’t think they would be this big,” said his sister, Marissa, 22, who is celebrating her birthday Saturday, Jan. 7. She has been his legal guardian since she was 18, after their mother died. Her aunt, Gerry Buckingham, took them in for awhile until she wanted her independence.

The students made the posters just before the strike and teachers made sure she received it.

“I miss you so much already. You were the funniest guy I knew. It breaks my heart,” wrote Jen Crane.

“Your life was like the sun it shined every day and you were bright. You will be missed,” wrote Tashara McKelny.

His sister said that he liked babysitting for her son, Kayden, 19 months, and playing with him.

“Wrestling was his main thing (at school) and hanging out with his friends. He was the life of the party and always had people laughing,” she said.

“He loved to watch movies and eat ice cream, just plain vanilla,” she said.

Everitt died Tuesday after he and his sister had gone to Wal-Mart. He put her son in his car seat and got in and they started driving. Near the high school, he suddenly got ill. She pulled into the school parking lot and called 9-1-1 about 4:45 p.m., according to officials. He was taken to Vista Medical Center East, Waukegan, where he was pronounced dead. Coroner Artis Yancey said basically his heart blood vessel sprang a leak. It was a genetic birth defect. “It was tragic,” said Yancey.

His sister will miss his crazy energy.

“He was so young and in perfect health. He didn’t have any symptoms,” she said. He wanted to join the U.S. Marines when he left high school, and that was a little scary, too.

“I’m happy he lived his life and did the things he wanted to do. If he had been diagnosed, he would have been on so many medications, he wouldn’t have been able to wrestle,” said Everitt.

“He was so happy,” she said, but at the same time admitted, “It’s going to be lonely.”

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