EL PASO — Tears, hugs, prayers and shared memories were all part of a special prayer vigil in El Paso on Sunday night organized to remember the life of a University High School senior who died Friday.
Community Bible Fellowship Church hosted the vigil in honor of Jake Miller, who attended school in El Paso through eighth grade. About 150 people attended.
"I think probably everyone here knows Jake and his family very well," said Youth Pastor Dale Pokarney. "It's an opportunity for people to come and hold each other, comfort each other and pray for Jake's family."
Miller, a senior at U High, died of an apparent suicide Friday, said Illinois State University Lab Schools Superintendent Jeff Hill, noting that Miller had an ongoing struggle with depression. His funeral is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Eastview Christian Church, Normal.
"As I talked with the family, all they ask right now is for prayers," Pokarney said.
Miller won multiple state championships as a member of the U High swim team.
In September, he learned he had qualified in the 400-meter individual medley for the 2016 Olympic Trials and committed to the University of Louisville swim team.
He was ranked 10th in the nation as a high school recruit and also was a member of the Redbird Swim Club and USA Swimming.
"Swimming was a huge part of his life," said El Paso resident Amy Soupon. "But he was such a great guy, too, with a great big heart.
"I remember probably about six or seven years ago, we were at a swim meet and there was a young boy in a wheelchair who was swimming in a race and Jake helped him get in and out of the pool. But that is a perfect example of who he was. He always wanted to help people."
He was a volunteer for the Special Olympics and at Heritage Manor Nursing Home in El Paso, and he participated in the Spina Bifida Walk.
"He was funny, too," said Soupon's daughter Shannon, a former teammate. "You always wanted to be around him because he was just so much fun."
Pokarney said that in addition to the Miller family, Jake's friends and swimming teammates also need assistance to help with the grief.
"For many of his friends who were away when this happened, this is their first chance to get together and console one another, and we encourage that because it's a tragic event and everyone is hurting," he said.
At U High on Monday, counselors and administrators will be in the auditorium all day to assist students. Several therapy dogs will be available, and areas will be set aside in the school to allow students to write notes to the Miller family and share memories of Jake.