Student killed by train had 'kindest heart'


By Eric Peterson | Daily Herald Staff

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Family and friends of 20-year-old David Hirsch of Hoffman Estates are mourning the loss of a kind, outgoing young man.

The Illinois State University special education major and 2005 Hoffman Estates High School graduate was struck by a train and killed Wednesday in downstate Normal.

The Normal police and McLean County coroner are investigating but, as of late Thursday, had little to go on as to what happened.

Assistant Police Chief Rick Bleichner said there was no indication Hirsch was talking on a cell phone or had earphones on when he was struck around 2:30 p.m. An inquest is pending.

"At this point, there's nothing overly apparent about why he stepped in front of the train," Bleichner said. "We may never know why it happened, but we're going to look into it as best we can."

Catherine Daglas, Hirsch's counselor at Hoffman Estates High School, said he was a good student who was active in drama and variety shows. She vividly recalls him in an Army uniform for the musical, "South Pacific."

"He was a very humorous, fun-loving individual," she said. "He thought he could be on stage or in theater, but he wanted to work with young people."

Hirsch, the son of Steven and Dianne Hirsch, was also brother to Julie, a Hoffman High senior, and 9-year-old Daniel.

Vicki Lachmann taught Sunday school to Hirsch at Beth Tikvah in Hoffman Estates and works with Dianne Hirsch, who also teaches religion at the synagogue.

"In the 10 years I've taught hundreds of students, this was the gentlest soul of any of them," Lachmann said, fighting to control tears. "He had the kindest, most gentle heart. There has never been a kinder boy. No one else that I've taught has ever touched me in this particular way."

Renee Lieberman, a student at Michigan State said she and Hirsch were best friends. They talked just this past Tuesday night, when he told her he was thinking of changing majors from special ed to telecommunications.

"He was a little unsure what to do," Lieberman said, "and we decided he would finish the year in his current major, then apply to do the new major. He liked the idea of not switching too fast."

"We ended the call with 'Miss you, love you.'"

Another close friend, Marina Tecktiel knew David through Beth Tikvah and Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute Camp, in Oconomowoc, Wis., where kids from Midwestern Reform temples would gather to spend the lazy days of summer.

At OSRUI, where Hirsch, Tecktiel and Lieberman were counselors, Hirsch worked with fourth- through seventh-graders.

"He loved having fun," Tecktiel said, adding she is upset at what some people are posting to Facebook.

"Some people who didn't know him are saying that he walked around gates or that he was wearing headphones, and they don't even know that," she said.

"None of this makes any sense," Tecktiel added.

Lachmann remembered Hirsch had been a member of a close-knit foursome of two boys and two girls. When one of the girls died from an illness, the remaining three worked to gather money for a Tree of Life and a plaque.

Now another member of that foursome has been lost, leaving countless loved ones to mourn and seek answers.

Police called to the scene in Normal Wednesday found Hirsch lying on the south side of the tracks.

Witnesses told police Hirsch had been walking north on University Street when he was struck. They also said the crossing arms were down and the lights were functioning properly at the time.

Paramedics took Hirsch to BroMenn Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:58 p.m.

ISU President Al Bowman said the Division of Student Affairs Critical Incident Response Team immediately offered counseling and support to Hirsch's roommates.

"Our hearts go out to David's family and friends, and I know they will be uppermost in our thoughts," Bowman said in a prepared statement.

Many of Hirsch's friends are driving or flying in from their schools for the Sunday funeral, which will be preceded by meetings with Rabbi Max Weiss and with others to help the kids cope with their grief. The gathering of friends will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Congregation Beth Tikvah, 300 Hillcrest Blvd.

Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at Chicago Jewish Funerals, 195 N. Buffalo Grove Road in Buffalo Grove. For information call (847) 509-5011.