Willowbrook memorializes slain freshman
Sixteen-year-old Darnell Holt's favorite color was red. So on Wednesday, the halls and classrooms at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park were awash in a sea of red outfits, all worn by classmates and teachers paying tribute to the slain freshman known for his infectious smile.
Darnell was found dead Tuesday with his family after a fire destroyed their home in an unincorporated area between Villa Park and Oakbrook Terrace.
Police sources said Darnell and his mother, Ursula Nailor, 37, his brother, Daniel Nailor, 13, and cousin Dominique Robinson, 19, of Bolingbrook, likely were shot and killed by Ursula's boyfriend, before he set fire to the house on the 0S700 block of Summit Avenue north of Roosevelt Road
The boyfriend, Cedric Anderson, 42, died in an apparent suicide in his father's home in Dolton later Tuesday afternoon, officials said.
Darnell's teachers and coaches said Wednesday that the Willowbrook community was stunned by losing the dedicated wrestler, football player and outgoing student.
"He was one of those kids with a huge personality," said teacher Terry Harrell. "It's sad that he is no longer a part of our family in body, but he is still part of our family."
Freshman Micah Williams, who attended school for four years with Darnell at both Albright Middle School and Willowbrook, said Darnell was impossible to ignore in the hallways.
"You couldn't not notice him," Micah said.
Students acted swiftly to honor Darnell, who liked to flaunt his "swag" -- or swagger -- both with declarations on his Facebook page, and in real life with loud jewelry. Through social media and text messages, they spread the campaign to wear red to school on Wednesday. They held a candlelight vigil outside Darnell's home Tuesday night.
By early Wednesday morning, Willowbrook students had painted a rock outside the school red, along with Darnell's initials in silver. The other side of the rock, which is often painted when a major event happens at the school, read "Once a Warrior, always a Warrior," referencing the school's mascot.
Candles, stuffed animals, Warrior baseball hats and a sign that read "Swag for Darnell," surrounded the rock. Students gathered around 7 a.m. Wednesday for their second vigil, and invited the school choir to sing.
"We are very proud of how Willowbrook and the community have come together," Principal Dan Krause said. "He will be deeply missed. We know that our students, who came together as a school and family, will continue to celebrate him."
Officials at Willowbrook and Albright, where Darnell's brother Daniel Nailor was in seventh grade, had crisis management teams set up for grief-stricken students and staff. Both schools also alerted parents of the deaths with email notifications. At Albright, notes were also sent home to parents Tuesday, while both schools updated their websites and social media accounts with the news and information on counseling resources.
Social workers and their interns from other schools in both DuPage High School District 88 and Salt Creek Elementary District 48 were also available to students at Willowbrook and Albright, respectively.
Daniel Nailor had many friends at Albright and will be missed by students and teachers, District 48 Superintendent John Correll said.
In a statement on the school's website, Correll said "Dan is described as a wonderful young man, a 'gentle giant,' and one who would light up the room with his smile when he entered it."
Both schools saw an uptick of students seeking counseling Wednesday, but not a massive flood.
Correll said teachers are attempting to teach normal lesson plans, but are "ready to be flexible" if students need extra support.
Superintendent Steve Humphrey said students seem to be dealing with their grief constructively, through efforts such as the vigils and red-clothing tributes. Humphrey added that the outpouring of support for Darnell speaks to how connected he was to Willowbrook.
"We are seeing something that would usually happen with the loss of an upperclassman, so that says a lot about how much Darnell had made himself a part of everything."
Head wrestling coach Bryan Murphy added that Darnell was known for building bridges between upper- and lowerclassmen, even being invited to the wrestling team by a senior. He was slated to join the varsity team next year.
"He was a fine, passionate young man who brought a real team spirit to our program," Murphy said.
Friends say sadness from Darnell's death spread beyond Willowbrook.
"Even people from different schools, like Glenbard East, have been affected and have been updating their statuses (online) about him with nice things," freshman Devin Adam said.
Although Principal Krause said the school is taking things day by day and the staff has not considered any permanent memorial, Micah said students are organizing a similar wear-red effort for a Willowbrook home basketball game scheduled Friday.
Shunning his winter coat Wednesday on a walk home from first-semester finals, Micha said he made that decision because "I gotta wear my red," adding that everyone should know his friend Darnell was loud, funny and "just really nice."
Goodbye: Second vigil with choir held at 7 a.m.