Tragic news shook Arrowhead High School Monday morning as news spread that James Hilligoss, 17, was found dead in his bedroom before school.
The Hartland Fire Department responded to the boy’s home shortly after 6:30 a.m. Monday, where he had been found lifeless in his bed. Authorities took him to a hospital in Oconomowoc where he was pronounced dead. Police suspected no foul play, but the circumstances surrounding Hilligoss’s death remain under investigation.
The news of the junior’s death hit Arrowhead High School hard.
As word circulated through the school Monday morning, officials dispatched grief counselors to help students and staff cope with the loss. “Our school is pretty shook right now,” Arrowhead Superintendent Craig Jefson said Monday morning. “A lot of emotions. A lot of kids, we’ve got them down here in the district office and all of the areas of the school right now with our counselors.”
The school learned the news at about 8 a.m., prompting it to implement its crisis plan. Counselors and the school psychologist were immediately made available to grieving students and staff.
Said Jefson, “We’ve got a crisis plan for this, so when we were made aware of this this morning we put that into action so our student services department along with our school psychologist and guidance counselors are available.”
Hilligoss was a member of Arrowhead’s alpine ski team – a team his father helped coach and one that claimed a state championship just last week.
He was also a member of the football and track-and-field teams.
“I think by the reaction of our students, he was obviously well connected, probably through these sports, but there’s quite a bit of an impact on our kids and how to deal with the loss,” explained a subdued Jefson. “And I think even those kids that may not have known him directly, they knew him as one of their peers.”
For now, the healing process begins for the students and staff at Arrowhead.
“We’ve got students here, and we’re taking them out of class and allowing them to have some space in some areas to grieve together, to ask questions,” the superintendent said.
Of Hilligoss’s parents, Jefson said, “I can’t imagine anything worse for a parent than to lose a child.”