February 16, 2017 11:39 AM
People across the state of Minnesota are mourning the loss of Will Grahek, the 22-year-old UMD student who was shot and killed Tuesday in Duluth's East Hillside neighborhood.
He played rugby for the UMD Fighting Penguins team, and his teammates expressed their shock at his death.
Trace Bolstad, a senior and captain on the team, said Will was an instant friend.
"He's the kind of guy you want to have around," Bolstad said. "He's the person that if you're having a bad day, and you've got to go to practice, he's the one you wanted to see."
Grahek's smile was part of that.
"That smile. That cheesy smile," sophomore Connor Larson said with a smile of his own.
"He grew on me right away. Well, after awhile," Senior Storm Bajari corrected himself. "I didn't like him because he was so happy. But then the next time we hung out, it was just like, OK, yeah. I like this guy a lot more and more and more. He just kept smiling and kept laughing."
Larson chimed in that his smile and laugh were infectious. Tim Stefczak, another captain, agreed.
"It's just part of who he is, you know? Like you meet someone, and you know they're someone who probably has a lot of friends," Stefczak said. "It's just that infectious positivity."
The rugby family took the blow together.
"It's not even in the realm of possibility, and here we are," Stefczak said.
"I'd say disbelief among everyone," Bryce Lanhart, a senior described the feeling on campus. "You just don't want to believe it."
"I just wanted to be with my team at that point and be with the family we've created here," Bolstad said. "It's just like a loss for words at this point."
That support network was crucial through the initial shock.
"Some people handled it by just playing a really light game of touch. And some people just needed to take their time and let it sink in," Bolstad said.
Grahek also played rugby at CSS, so Bolstad pointed out the rugby family there is dealing with the same emotions.
As the tragedy sinks in, one thing will always stand out.
"He was always happy. Always," Bajari said. "I never saw him once without a smile on his face."
Updated: February 16, 2017 11:39 AM
Created: February 16, 2017 11:35 AM
Copyright 2017 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved