Family members are searching for answers about what claimed the life of a popular Belleville East High School counselor.
Chyriell Drain-Hill, 58, went to an area hospital a few days ago with concerns about about a potential heart problem. She was going through tests. But family members said they had no idea there was an immediate issue.
“She was having some difficulty breathing and pulmonary issues,” Joy Willis, Drain-Hill’s niece, said. “But we still don’t have a lot of answers. They were investigating what was going on with her. My grandmother was visiting ... and shortly after she left she got a call that (Drain-Hill) had passed away. It was totally unexpected.”
Willis said her aunt died within 45 minutes of the visit.
“She was a little bit winded,” Willis said. “But there was nothing to indicate that something was immediately wrong or that we could lose her so quickly.”
Students at Belleville East are planning a vigil to honor the woman who touched so many of their lives, according to District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier.
“They would like to do something to represent how much Chyriell meant to them,” Dosier said Tuesday. “Plans haven’t been finalized yet.”
Student Kamryn Pirtle described Drain-Hill as a “very loving” person who helped everyone.
“She wasn’t my counselor, but I always went to her when I needed something because I personally knew her outside of school,” Kamryn said. “Just knowing that this happened really breaks my heart because she did a lot for me, and I’m going to miss her a lot. Her smile just could brighten anybody’s day up.”
(Chyriell Drain-Hill) meant the world to me. She wasn’t only my guidance counselor, she was like a mother to me. Anything I needed, she was always there.
Adonis Jackson, student at Belleville East
Another student, Wyatt Veach, said he often helped Drain-Hill around the office. She was part of the reason Veach decided to follow teaching as a career path.
“She told me I would be a good educator, and she was my biggest inspiration for me going into education,” Wyatt said. “It was a shock to know what happened and she will be missed.”
For student Adonis Jackson, Drain-Hill was “like a mother.”
“(Drain-Hill) meant the world to me. She wasn’t only my guidance counselor, she was like a mother to me. Anything I needed, she was always there,” Adonis said. “No matter if I was wrong or right, she was there. She supported me and any idea I wanted to do. I can’t really sum it up in a couple seconds because I could go on all day about all the stuff she did for me. She’ll be sadly missed.”
Dosier said school leaders were as shocked by the loss as much as students.
Drain-Hill was set to retire at the end of the school year in less than a month.
“I have another aunt who was getting ready to retire, and they were looking forward to spending their retirement together,” Willis said. “But she said she wasn’t done with education.”
Willis said Drain-Hill told her a few days ago that she planned to continue to work with children in some capacity.
“She said she had another generation to save,” Willis said. “Those were her exact words.”
Willis, a school principal, said Drain-Hill was a source of inspiration and a leader by example, both for her and for dozens of other young people she met.
“I lost my parents at a very early age,” Willis said. “She was an integral part of forming me and was my mentor. Everything she did, I tried to emulate. She was a true inspiration for me.
“Yesterday, when my family was together, it was a constant flow of phone calls and traffic,” Willis said. “So many people have contacted us to tell us how much she meant to them.”
While Willis said she knew how much her aunt meant to her, she didn’t realize so many people felt the same way.
“I think, what we have noticed over the past couple of days, is that we hadn’t realized the magnitude of work she had done for people across the area and across the country,” Willis said. “So many people have reached out to say how much she touched their life.”
Serenity Memorial Funeral Home is handling arrangements for Drain-Hill, who died on Monday. Visitation for Drain-Hill will be 6-9 p.m. Friday at New Life in Christ Church in O’Fallon. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the same location.