NEWBURGH, Ind. - A 16-year-old southern Indiana boy who earned his high school diploma while battling cancer and inspired classmates with his positive outlook has died.
Alex Riegle, who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, earned his GED after just one semester at Castle High School, near Newburgh, and was presented with an honorary diploma during a ceremony in February, the Evansville Courier & Press reported .
His cancer fight, which left him nearly blind and in a wheelchair, touched classmates and teachers alike, as he and his family tweeted updates, always with a positive outlook.
"He always had a smile on his face in the midst of being nearly blind and miserable from all of his surgeries," said Newburgh Youth Leader Rhiannon McNulty. "I think it would have been much easier to be miserable; a lot of people would have been. But he chose to live out his faith in a meaningful way and to have joy and courage."
More than 250 people attended a memorial at the high school Sunday, a day after Riegle's death, hugging and leaning on each other. But the somber event quickly turned to celebration.
"If Alex was here tonight, he wouldn't want us to be here like this," said Principal Andy Byers. "We're going to ask that tonight be a celebration."
Many in attendance never met Riegle, but followed his journey on Twitter, rooting for him to beat the disease and learning from his hard work ethic.
"I complain so much, and I've got to stop, because this kid had cancer and he was suffering every day -- he couldn't see, he couldn't walk. I can do all those things," said sophomore Kayla Bruner.
"When I found out that Alex finished a whole four years of high school in the year he was still sick," said Castle High School freshman Sarah Harbert, who never met Riegle. "I whine about going to school every Monday and having homework, and he's at home in pain and doing this because he wants to learn."
Riegle's brother, Ryan Riegle, a senior at the school, had been a constant presence at his sibling's side. He said Sunday he's sure his brother is in heaven.
"I've watched my brother over the last year and a half become someone I never thought he would be," Ryan Riegle said of his brother's strong faith. "He said, 'Look, I don't know how, but I just know there's a God. This isn't an accident. I feel him, and I know he's there."