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St. Charles teen remembered as a leader

Michael Fairbanks
Michael Fairbanks

ELBURN – Those who knew Michael D. Fairbanks are heartbroken that the 19-year-old died Tuesday at an Elburn home.

"We are all very cheated by this loss," said Nancy Mullen, executive director of Youth Outlook, an organization committed to providing a safe, supportive and respectful environment for adolescents, whether they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

Fairbanks was Youth Leader of the Year in 2009 for his work with the Youth Outlook organization. Mullen said Fairbanks was very generous with his time and, along with Mullen, spoke to groups about student rights issues, she said.

"He was very active in his own school in terms of helping with bullying work and drawing attention to that issue, so schools would be a safe environment," Mullen said.

Fairbanks, whose last known address was in the 1700 block of Jeanette Avenue in St. Charles, was found unresponsive Tuesday afternoon in a house in the 300 block of West Nebraska Street. Elburn and Countryside Fire Department paramedics found him to be deceased when they responded to the house at about 3:35 p.m., according to a news release.

Elburn Police Chief Steve Smith said Fairbanks was found in the home of a friend he was visiting. Fairbanks' friend came home from work and thought he was sleeping at first, but found him unresponsive, Smith said.

"There doesn't seem to be any foul play," he said. "There was nobody with this person when he died as far as we know."

Smith said police are still in the very early stages of the investigation. Police are interviewing family members to see if there's a history of any illnesses, and toxicology tests will be performed, he said.

Fairbanks' aunt, Deyanne Gabriel of West Chicago, said her nephew was involved in numerous activities, including the National Honor Society, the honors French club, and was in honors music classes. He graduated early from high school in January 2012, and was concerned with the environment, economics, politics and current events, she said.

Gabriel said Fairbanks was studying full-time at Elgin Community College to complete his general education credits before going on to the University of Colorado Boulder, where he had already been accepted. She said he had hoped to study business.

She described Fairbanks as mellow, bright, happy, caring and funny. He had tons of friends, she said, and he cared a lot about animals. He was family-oriented and came from a tight-knit family, she added.

"He was a real caring kid," she said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back. For a young 19-year-old, he kind of had an old soul to him, I thought."

Mullen described Fairbanks as very kind and generous and as one of the smartest young men she has worked with. He had a beautiful spirit and soul, she said.

"People gravitated toward him," Mullen said. "He was a leader."

Renee Koch, a social worker at St. Charles East High School, said she was "deeply saddened by the loss of Michael Fairbanks." She lauded his work with the school's Gay Straight Alliance.

"He was a true visionary and advocate for the LGBT community," Koch said. "His leadership of GSA at East High School brought such an awareness to issues like diversity and bullying. He truly wanted peace and happiness in this world. I will never forget his smile and the lives he touched here."

Tracy Whiteside, education manager at Fox Valley Repertory, knew Fairbanks since 2007, when the youth ensemble performed "Annie Junior." She remembers him as a shy kid with a gorgeous voice who came out of his shell and played a lead role in "Oliver" a year later. He played the Tin Man in "The Wizard of Oz" in 2010, she said.

"I couldn't think of anyone more perfect for that role," Whiteside said.

She said she is heartbroken over his death.

"I just don't have the words to say how horrible I feel for him and his family," she said.

• Kane County Chronicle reporter Nicole Weskerna contributed to this report.

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