A University of Montana student and Hellgate High School graduate died early Sunday of an accidental gunshot wound, the Missoula County sheriff said.

Sheriff TJ McDermott said 19-year-old Kole Swartz died at a home on the 9700 block of Neighbor Way, where he was at a house party with friends. Swartz was a freshman at UM, where he had gone with hopes of playing football for the Grizzlies. He played basketball and football at Hellgate High.

Swartz was handling a rifle when it discharged and he died from a single gunshot wound shortly before 3 a.m., the sheriff said. The deputy coroner has ruled the death accidental; Swartz was pronounced dead at the scene.

“On behalf of the sheriff’s office, thoughts and prayers go out to this young man’s family,” McDermott said.

“We’re always deeply saddened when we hear of tragedies involving our students," said Cary Shimek, a UM spokesman.

"We want to remind everyone that University staff members are committed to helping anyone who might be affected and to providing resources and support. If any UM student needs support, we urge them to contact Curry Health Center Counseling,” Shimek said.

Sunday afternoon, friends remembered Swartz as a fun-loving person who set a positive example for others through his actions.

“Most of all for me, aside from playing sports, Kole was just a caring young man. He respected everyone the same,” said John Dalpiaz, a senior at Hellgate who played sports with Swartz since middle school.

They often went to get pizza and talk about girls and the upcoming contest before football games, Dalpiaz said.

“Just being around a guy like that it was usually positive – just fun-loving subjects and just always good laughs,” he said.

Swartz was an imposing figure at nearly 6-foot-5 and had an appetite to go with his size, Dalpiaz said, adding his favorite kind of pizza was anything with meat on it.

Although Swartz enjoyed having fun, he had a strong work ethic and often helped other players and his peers, Dalpiaz said.

“He was this figure who was respected by the whole team,” Dalpiaz added.

“He was an awesome kid. Anything we ever asked him to do he did,” said Willie Beamon, Hellgate’s linebacker coach.

The outgoing defensive end also had a strong sense of determination, Beamon said.

“He would never give up on anything. He was a kid that, hey, we’re going to do it and we’re going to see it through,” he said.

Despite his tough exterior, Swartz was not afraid to show his emotions.

“After every game he would just break down and feel bad because he couldn’t pull it out for his team,” Beamon said.

“He showed guys, 'Hey, I can be tough but I can also have feelings,' ” he added.

Dalpiaz remembers going with Swartz to Griz football games and then seeing him play in scrimmages.

“It was phenomenal to see him out there rocking the same number and playing his favorite position which is defensive end,” Dalpiaz said.

Dalpiaz said friends are struggling with the loss and questioning why Swartz died at such a young age.

“He had so much ahead for him,” Dalpiaz said.

“I loved him while he was here. I’m going to miss him,” Beamon said.