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Memories of a teacher who died too soon; 'An inspiration to everyone,' Albert Raab is mourned at East Aurora High and beyond

Albert J. Raab was the teacher whom all the kids liked and respected, the kind whose passion helped students learn and made him a popular figure in the classroom and out.

That's why his sudden and shocking death left so many of them searching for answers.

The news that Raab, 32, had killed himself early Monday led to an impromptu candlelight vigil outside East Aurora High School that night, attended by more than 200 students and witnessed by a stunned community.

"He was an inspiration to everyone," said graduate Bridget McDonnell, who was in his global history class in her freshman and sophomore years. "We loved him. He was one of our favorite teachers. He was more than a teacher. You could just go to him for everything."

Voted the most popular teacher by the graduating class of 2009, Raab inspired many students -- even the ones he never taught in the classroom.

"He certainly had a passion for teaching history," Principal James L. Hoagland Jr. said Tuesday. "He had a unique ability to relate to teenage students. He made connections with them as individuals."

"He had a true passion for social studies, which made his classroom exciting and engaging," School Superintendent Brian D. Russ said in a statement.

Students on Tuesday couldn't say enough about Raab's level of dedication to them -- how he so often attended their athletic events and chaperoned school dances.

"He loved the Buffalo Sabres, and so do I. I'd be in his office very morning -- arguing about hockey," McDonnell said. "I just want him remembered for what an amazing person he was. He was an inspiration to everyone, and he's the kind of teacher I want to be."

McDonnell and others helped organize the vigil for Raab, who taught history there for seven years. The vigil prompted many to share their stories about him and put up pictures and posters to be signed by the students and shared with Raab's family.

"No one could believe it," student Jillian LeBlanc, 16, said of Raab's death. "The vigil was really depressing. You could hear people crying. He was just always a really friendly person. He'd never get mad at student jokes. You wouldn't believe he'd be the one to do this."

Raab is survived by his wife, Melissa; a 1-year-old daughter, Madison Julia; his mother, Judith; and a sister, Katherine Barr.

His family Tuesday evening wanted to focus on Raab's contributions in life and to those lives he touched. Described him as an empathetic teacher who related well to students, his mother, also a teacher, said her son went "above and beyond.

"He was moral, had integrity and loved and supported everyone," she said, noting his extensive love of travel and how he spoke Spanish fluently. "His travel helped him enrich his teaching. He felt that by being there himself, he could explain the areas to the students."

His uncle, Dr. Thomas A. Raab of Orchard Park, described his nephew as a loving father, husband and son. Not only was Albert Raab respected and approachable in his profession, the doctor said, he was witty. "The kids related to him," he said. "Al was a positive role model for kids."

But his death left those who knew him groping for answers.

Orchard Park police Sunday received a few 911 calls from neighbors on Larned Lane on the edge of the village, where he lived, reporting at least one gunshot. When officers arrived on the scene at 9:40 p.m., they saw Albert Raab standing outside his home, holding a rifle.

"Apparently when he saw police, he turned and went back in his house," said Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew D. Benz. Raab's wife and daughter were at the end of the driveway, Benz said, and were taken to the police station immediately.

Benz said that just before 6 a.m., police entered Raab's home and found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"We hadn't had anything to do with him before," Benz said. "It certainly was a tragedy, and we handled it the best we could to make sure everybody else in the area was safe. Nobody else got hurt."

Hoagland called Raab's death "a loss for our school, community and kids."

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday in SS. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 66 E. Main St., Hamburg.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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