A high school pitcher in perfect health—and with good college baseball prospects—came down with flu-like symptoms recently and shocked his community by dying of the plague on June 8, the Denver Post reports. Now friends and family in Larimer County, Colorado, are grappling with the unexpected passing of 16-year-old Taylor Thomas Gaes: "What a sweet, talented, polite young man you raised," writes Jennifer Backurz for her family on a page of online tributes. "He was a very special person. We are heartbroken with and for you." According to Larimer County Health Department spokeswoman Katie O'Donnell, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound-frame Taylor likely contracted septicemic plague by touching a dead animal on the Gaes family's rural property, or through a flea bite.
Plague itself is rare—only seven Americans get it per year—but septicemic plague is particularly hard to find, O'Donnell says. It's also the deadliest strain and requires quick treatment, but doesn't show signs of being plague, CBS Denver reports. Taylor's family made sure their son's name went public so anyone who attended the memorial service on their property would act on flu-like symptoms, says O'Donnell. His family is also seeking donations for a memorial fund to help kids pay baseball league entrance fees. "Taylor Gaes loved the game of baseball," says the crowdfunding site. "The belief that any kid should have the opportunity to play the game of baseball was a passion of his." See a list of plague-prevention tips at KDVR, or read about the first US case of a dog infecting people with plague. (Read more plague stories.)