Mothers mourn two Naperville 'brothers till the end' after concert brings another tragedy
Their kids grew up in Naperville attending the same schools, playing on the same pee-wee football team and living up to the same motto, "Brothers Till the End."
But it was grief that drew the brotherhood and a group of football moms closer together.
Jacob Jurinek was an only child when his mother, Alison, died of brain cancer in 2011. The first two rows of seats at her funeral were saved for his "brothers" on the St. Raphael football team.
Their families would look after Jurinek, then a fourth-grader, like one of their own children.
"There were a bunch of us who sort of became his second moms," Dawn Pelter said.
A decade after his mother's death, those maternal, nurturing figures, neighbors who epitomized the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child," were unable to fathom the loss of Jurinek's life.
The 21-year-old and his best friend, Franco Patino, were among the eight young people killed Friday in the crowd surge at the Astroworld music festival in Houston.
It's doesn't bring much comfort, but Pelter has tried to focus on one thought since learning of Jurinek's death.
"He's in the arms of his mother now, and he hasn't been there since fourth grade," she said.
Hoping to feel less helpless, Pelter helped organize a tribute Monday for Jurinek and Patino in the Ashbury and Rosehill subdivisions. She and other mourners tied green ribbons around trees.
That's the school color of Patterson Elementary. Jurinek and Patino both went to Patterson, Crone Middle School and Neuqua Valley High School before going to separate colleges.
"Right now, it's still surreal," said Pelter, whose son Hank, had known Jurinek since childhood, when their youth football team wore T-shirts with the "Brothers Till the End" creed.
At Neuqua, Patino played football his freshman and sophomore years. Jurinek was mostly a defensive lineman throughout high school.
"He was always about team first," Neuqua head coach Bill Ellinghaus said about Jurinek. "He was always about making sure that everybody was together, united on both sides of the ball, and he was extremely coachable."
Ellinghaus knew Patino and Jurinek as hard workers, both outgoing and "two extremely positive kids."
"If I could say one thing about these two boys, it was just that the team mattered to them, and the friendships and the relationships that they built on the team mattered to them," Ellinghaus said.
With the loss of his mother, Jurinek's friends "meant the world to him," Pelter said. His friendship with Patino was no different.
"They were so close to each other. They were like brothers," said Patino's older brother, Julio Patino Jr. "Even at the very end, they were together."
Patino, Jurinek and the other victims died in the chaos that unfolded during a concert by rapper Travis Scott.
Among those who saw Jurinek in his last moments was 23-year-old Houston resident Izel Ayala and her sister, 19-year-old Ruby Ayala. When they learned that Ayala and her sister were at their first hip-hop concert, Jurinek said, "Protect them at all costs," she recalled.
Pelter called the tragedy "senseless."
"It didn't need to happen. I'm just praying for all those families," she said.
Jurinek was a journalism student with a specialty in advertising at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. Patino was majoring in mechanical engineering technology at the University of Dayton in Ohio. He played rugby and served as the treasurer of Alpha Psi Lambda, a Hispanic-oriented fraternity.
"He was loved by so many because of the loyal, loving, selfless, protective, funny, and caring person he was," Patino's family said in a statement. "Even though he was a hardworking individual, he would always try to make time for his family and the people he cared about. We will miss the big heart Franco had and his passion for helping others."
Funeral arrangements for Jurinek and Patino are still pending. Pelter is looking to plan a vigil during Thanksgiving break when their old classmates will be home from college.
Pelter said her chest tightened remembering how the same football community supported Jurinek after his mother's death. His second moms included Jurinek in mother-son brunches and invited him to family dinners.
"It just brings you back to that time," Pelter said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Steve Zalusky contributed to this report