Father recalls tragic death of beloved N. Kentucky cheerleader: ‘How can this be?’

FORT THOMAS, KY (FOX19) - On Tuesday, Dan Schalk picked out his daughter’s burial plot, worked on her funeral arrangements, and selected an outfit to bury her in. These are all things no parent should ever have to do.

His daughter, Lilliana, died suddenly Saturday night. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of sadness, questions, and love from the community.

To say Lilliana was a good competitive cheerleader would be an understatement. She was what they call a “flyer” -- and boy could she fly. She was an eighth-grader who, for the first time in school history, made the varsity cheerleading team at Highlands High School.

She was a happy kid who loved pizza, the color blue, and she was just starting to get interested in boys -- maybe. She had a favorite song and she knew what she wanted to be -- an elementary school teacher.

“She had two of her friends -- they were going to go to school, come back to Fort Thomas, teach at Moyer and live next door,” Dan Schalk said. “They had it planned.”

But how your life can change in an instant -- or in this case, two hours.

“I can’t get my head around it at all,” Schalk said. “No discoloration, no tiredness, no weakness, no confusion -- her grades all straight A’s across the board. Fit, athletic, no indication [of illness] and of course I’m racking my brain. Did I miss something?”

Saturday morning her dad says her hamstring was bothering her a little, and he even took her to the doctor to get it checked out -- an X-ray said it was fine. They went to Columbus for a cheer competition. When Lilliana was warming up, her coach came out and told Schalk something was wrong.

“Coach says, ‘She’s kinda out of sorts, things definitely not normal,’” he said. “So we call a life squad, took her to the ER and things quickly degraded there to the ICU and in about two hours she was gone.”

Her symptoms were some hamstring pain, numbness in her hands -- they were cold -- and she just felt weak.

“Maybe she was dehydrated? Pinched nerve? I thought dehydrated -- first thought. And when you saw all the doctors come to you, you had to think ‘What is going on, right?’ All this for this, what is going on? And the liaison took me back and was like in a very short time, she said. ‘Is there somebody you should call?’ And I said, ‘For what reason?’ And she said, ‘This is pretty serious,’ and I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Schalk said.

He said her heart stopped twice in the ER and a total of four times.

He was with her at the end.

“We went from waiting for her to perform at 5:50 p.m. to holding her hand and they announced that she had passed at 7:40 -- the only thing I can say was, ‘What the hell just happened? What happened? How can this be?’ Just gone," he said.

The cause of death is still pending the results of an autopsy.

Lilliana is going to be buried in her Highlands cheerleading uniform.

She is having a service open to the public Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Muehlenkamp Ershell Funeral Home in Fort Thomas.