Vigil held for Arrowhead High School student who died suddenly

HARTLAND -- A vigil was held Wednesday night for the 17-year-old Arrowhead High School student who died suddenly over the weekend. Students gathered in the stadium under the bleachers, glow sticks in hand, to remember J.T. Hilligoss, who died Sunday night from a heart problem.

Hartland police say a 17-year-old junior and athlete at Arrowhead High School died early Monday morning, after he went to bed on Sunday night, and didn't wake up.

Police say 17-year-old James Hilligoss of Hartland was transported to Oconomowoc Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead Monday.

Tuesday, the Waukesha County Medical Examiner's office said there is nothing suspicious relating to Hilligoss' death, and that early autopsy results show the 17-year-old died from a cardiac abnormality.

Counselors were on hand at Arrowhead High School Monday, and in one case, the principal sent counselors to a home to tend to grieving parents and friends. Many were shocked to learn of the loss of Hilligoss Monday.

Hilligoss was an Arrowhead football player, a member of the track and field team, and was also just coming off a state championship in downhill skiing. "He was the epitome of an athlete," Mike Gnewuch, Hilligoss' football and track coach said Monday.

Monday, one of Hilligoss' friends, Robbie Beres, noticed J.T.'s empty desk in an Arrowhead High School math class. That's when students learned Sunday night, J.T. went to bed, and never woke up. "I guess what really hit home - I saw the math teacher needed some assistance. She was just bawling. To see that and how it affected all the people around me and how close they were with him, it really took me back," Beres said.

Beres skied with Hilligoss and called him a mentor on the slopes. "He really tried to make me feel part of the team," Beres said.

On the gridiron, Hilligoss was described as part jock, part jester. "He always made me laugh. He made the whole team laugh," Beres said.

Gnewuch coached Hilligoss in football and track and field. Gnewuch says the Hilligoss' have a family member with a significant health problem, but he was never aware of health issues with J.T. He said Monday he did not believe the teen was ever diagnosed with a concussion on the football field."There's just so many uncertainties at this point, that we hope to bring closure to as the week progresses," Gnewuch said.

Hilligoss' ski coach reported no knowledge of any recent injury on the slopes, either.