‘Loved by the students’: Vigil honors popular MMSD staff member

MADISON, Wis. – At Warner Park, dozens of white balloons were released on Sunday by friends and family of Ishmael James looking to honor the 24-year-old who lost his life in a car accident.

Early Friday morning James’ car crashed into a tree then caught on fire, later he was pronounced dead at an area hospital.

RELATED: Man killed in crash on Madison’s north side

At the community vigil in his honor there was no shortage of people with kind words to share about James who many described as a gentle giant.

“He was big, most people thought he would be scary but he was a sweetheart,” said James’ sister Akira James. “There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for the ones that he loved the most.”

Officials from MMSD where James worked as a Special Education Assistant at Orchard Ridge elementary are also remembering the young man

In a statement to News 3 Now they said they’re working with James’ family to find a way to honor him in the upcoming days.

“Ishmael was loved by the students, staff and families of Orchard Ridge” it reads. “Ishmael exemplified what MMSD is all about, with deep roots in the school district and well known as an educator who cared deeply for his students and community.”

At Sunday’s vigil James’ girlfriend Charlotte Goetzka recognized him as a leader. She said he always pushed others to be the best version of themselves.

“I just want to call him and tell him ‘look how many people came out to support you,” Goetzka said. “Look how big of an impact you had.”

A GoFundMe has been set up for the family and has so far raised around 40 thousand dollars.