Bensenville District 2 'hurting' after two employees killed in plane crash
For the last two years, Brian Brauer taught alongside his role model at Tioga Elementary in Bensenville, learning about how an educator can "give everything" to a school.
The protégé now finds himself facing a grim task: Trying to comfort the students of his mentor.
"Tioga is not going to be the same without him," Brauer said Monday night at a vigil in honor of Thomas DeMauro. "All of Bensenville is not going to be the same."
DeMauro, the school's much-loved physical education teacher, and Charles "Chuck" Tomlitz, a maintenance director for Bensenville Elementary District 2, were killed in a weekend plane crash in northern Wisconsin.
DeMauro's 21-year-old son, Kyle, and Tomlitz's 45-year-old son, George, also were among the victims.
Dozens of mourners gathered outside the school to pray for the two district employees in English and Spanish. At a memorial, children left behind drawings and personal messages for their teacher.
"The entire community is hurting," said Patricia Johnson, a former village trustee whose two daughters, now in their 30s, were taught by DeMauro.
But she can't imagine the grief of families who have lost fathers and grown sons. "How do you even breathe again?" she asked.
The Cessna 421C crashed early Saturday after suddenly losing altitude near Catawba, Wisconsin, killing all six people on board.
The debris field indicates the plane may have broken up "in-flight," National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Eric Weiss said Monday.
The Price County sheriff's office identified the other two victims as Kevin James King, 70, of Bensenville, and James Francis, 63, of Norco, California.
The plane left from Waukegan and was headed to Winnipeg, the capital of the Canadian province of Manitoba, Weiss said. The pilot reported "poor weather in the vicinity" to air traffic controllers at one point during the flight, Weiss said.
The group was traveling for a Canadian fishing trip DeMauro looked forward to every summer, Brauer said.
He credits his job to DeMauro, who was still an upbeat, energetic teacher after about 30 years working in the district. Brauer was helping teach PE classes on Mondays when DeMauro took him under his wing and encouraged the principal to hire him full-time in 2015.
"All the kids loved him, and you could tell as soon as they got in the gym that's where they wanted to be," Brauer said.
DeMauro, 56, was a lifelong Bensenville resident affectionately called "Mr. D" by his students. Over his career, he coached several sports and driver's education classes at Fenton High School, where his wife is a teacher.
He was a sometimes long-winded storyteller who had a frequent saying: "You're as young as you feel."
"I'm sure he felt like he was still 18 because he was moving around, always doing something," Brauer said.
After school, you could find DeMauro playing basketball with his colleagues or building throwing targets and other equipment for his classes, demonstrating the active lifestyle he wanted to instill in his students.
"I'll be forever grateful for what he did for me," Brauer said.
Rebeca Magallanes, too, is grateful for the confidence DeMauro built in her daughter, Lucy, an incoming fifth-grader at the school.
"He encouraged her to try her best and always with a smile," Magallanes said.
Tomlitz, 69, lived in Addison and was known as a staff member who "would do anything for anyone," said Roberta Murphy, co-president of the Bensenville Education Association.
She created a GoFundMe fundraiser to support the families at Gofundme.com/tom-chuck-memorials. By Monday night, the page had raised nearly $11,500.
Grief counseling will be available at Tioga and Fenton from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday. District 2 officials did not return calls, but Superintendent Jim Stelter released a statement on the district's website.
"Please keep them and their families in your thoughts and prayers during this extremely difficult time," he wrote.
The NTSB could release a preliminary report in three to 10 business days from the date of the crash, Weiss said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Justin Kmitch contributed to this report.