Hayden Robert "Bobby" Donelson was remembered Wednesday as a friendly classmate and capable woodworker with an easy smile. Bobby died Tuesday afternoon after collapsing on Hayden High School's football field. He was 15.
Jeff Steinsberger taught Bobby in woodworking classes for three years at the school and described the sophomore as a helpful mentor to his peers.
"He had a great attitude. He came into class with a smile on his face," Steinsberger said. "He would help anyone with anything if they asked. He'd fill in for me and get them lined out if I was busy."
Mental health experts from Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Moffatt County arrived at the school Tuesday evening and held counseling sessions with students throughout the day Wednesday, as the Hayden High School community remembered an easygoing friend.
Principal Troy Zabel said Bobby was a "hands-on type of student" who counted cabinet making and woodworking among his favorite classes.
Bobby built an entertainment center, nightstand and several other projects in Steinsberger's courses, but the woodworking teacher said the project that stood out the most wasn't initially a success.
"Last year, he came in all excited one day with a plan he got from the Internet for some stilts," Steinsberger said.
After he made the stilts, with platforms that stood about 3 feet off the ground, he took them for a trial run.
"The first time he did it, the right side broke. The step on it broke, and he fell down. I was worried at first, but he immediately got up and was laughing, and there was a smile on his face," Steinsberger said.
Even with the initial setback, Bobby wasn't deterred.
"It wasn't 20 minutes of him going back in the shop and he had it fixed and was out there. And for about two weeks, every day, you'd see him walking around on those stilts during lunch," Steinsberger said. "He could pretty much run on them."
Steinsberger said he was helping students deal with the loss through class discussions and the grieving process.
"I want to talk about it and tell some funny stories about him and to remember the good times that we had in class with him. It's new to all of them and new to me," he said.
Dealing with tragedy
At about 1 p.m. Tuesday, Bobby was in a health class doing a daily walk around the school's football field when he collapsed, clutching his chest, according to a girl who was in the class.
Bobby got up and continued several paces before he collapsed a second time and began convulsing. School teachers and a nurse tried to resuscitate Bobby as they waited for the ambulance, but he had no pulse and was not breathing by the time the ambulance arrived, according to West Routt Fire Chief Brian Rickman.
Zabel said the school was divided by grade levels at the end of the school day Tuesday, as counselors met with each group to explain the situation. The counselors remained at the school Wednesday.
"That's what I love about Routt County is that they were here immediately when we needed them," Zabel said. "We're trying to have some business as usual, because I think some kids need that normalcy in their life."
Counselors also met Tuesday with students who were on the field when Bobby collapsed, as well as the teachers who were immediately involved.
A tribute to Bobby, including a cross and a large sheet of paper for students to write messages, was set in the hallway at the high school.
In the afternoon, about 20 students with flowers in hand walked onto the field where Bobby collapsed. A larger memorial is being planned in coordination with his family, including his older brother, who is also a student at the school.
"I feel like we've got a really good handle on things, as much as you can," Zabel said. "But until something like this happens, and I've been in school districts for 19 years, and I've never dealt with a death at a school : you don't know the level of emotion and things that are going to hit the building."
Officials said they suspect Bobby died from cardiac arrest but are unsure what triggered the attack. Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said a cause should be known by the end of the day today, after an autopsy.