If there was one class Patrick Gurschke would never miss at Riverside-Brookfield High School, it was his fifth-period class – zoology. He was fascinated by wolves and he was looking forward to Oct. 16, the day his class would be making the short trip to Brookfield Zoo to visit their collection.
His friend, Tori Castro, a fellow senior and zoology class member, said he had talked about studying zoology after high school and traveling to Alaska to observe wolves in the wild.
But Gurschke didn’t make it to the field trip and his desk was empty during fifth-period on Monday. The 17-year-old Brookfield resident was killed on Oct. 12, struck by a car as he skateboarded across Maple Avenue at Monroe Avenue about 3:35 p.m.
The force of the collision sent Gurschke flying about 20 feet south, onto the parkway. His skateboard was lodged beneath the 2004 gray Acura that hit him. The driver, a 38-year-old man from Bolingbrook, has not been cited. An accident reconstruction team continues to investigate the crash.
On Monday afternoon, red spray paint in the outline of a skateboard remained visible on the roadway in the intersection. Meanwhile, as fifth period at RBHS ended that day, more than 200 students poured out of the school and toward the crash site, carrying a banner of remembrance.
They marched westbound on Monroe Avenue, the direction Gurschke was headed when he crossed Maple Avenue, and congregated around the street light that became a memorial in the days following his death.
Piled around the pole are flowers, empty soft drink cans, handwritten notes, candles and his skateboard. Tied around the skateboard, like a ribbon on a present, is the red plastic crime scene tape police used to cordon off the scene last Friday.
“He’ll be in our hearts forever,” said Gurschke’s good friend Vinny Pasieta, who helped organized the walkout, spreading the word via Facebook. “Let’s give him one last hurrah.”
The crowd responded with a simple “Gurschke!” the name by which everyone called him.
“I was expecting maybe 40 or 50 people,” said Pasieta. “I was not expecting everyone.”
Brookfield police closed off the intersection for about an hour and then gently began urging people away from the roadway so they could open the streets to traffic again. Most students drifted off, while others gathered around the memorial or paid their respects to Gurschke’s mother, Jessica Lukas, who was in attendance. Lukas clutched the paper banner, signed by Gurschke’s classmates and friends and given to her as a memento.
“He was always with a smile on his face,” said Lukas. “I was just so shocked.”
Gurschke was a friendly, outgoing kid, according to his mom and others who knew him. A big guy at 6 feet tall, weighing about 250 pounds, he loved skateboarding and playing video games. He was also something of an artist, who impressed friends with his drawings of wolves, one of which was his Facebook profile picture before the page was taken down Monday afternoon.
“He had huge potential,” said Gus Switzer, a fellow senior at RBHS.
Peter Friedrich, a friend and tattoo artist who was looking forward to finishing up a tattoo for Gurschke last weekend, said he would have made an excellent tattoo artist.
“I saw a bit of him in me,” said Friedrich. “He was a good kid. This was very unexpected, very tragic.”
Gurschke’s fellow students quickly rallied around his family to help them defray funeral expenses. During lunch periods on Monday, students raised about $1,000, which will be donated to the family.
Andrea Mancini, another senior, is selling custom-made green and silver rubber bracelets bearing the inscription, “RIP Patrick Gurschke. Gone but never forgotten” at school. The money she raises from the bracelet sale is also going to his family, she said.
Students in zoology class with Gurschke have also begun a fund to raise enough money to adopt a wolf at Brookfield Zoo. Teacher David Monti said on Monday that the class had already raised about $20 toward the cause.
“It’s been extremely difficult for the students and for me,” said Monti, whose son, a fellow skateboarder, knew Gurschke. “That empty desk is very powerful.”