In the days since William Wilkinson, 17, drowned saving the life of a friend, his classmates have decorated his locker with posters, flowers, and memories, said Abraham Lincoln High School principal Don J. Anticoli.

"He was a fine young man," Anticoli said. "He was well-liked. He was popular. Little did we know he was also heroic."

Wilkinson, of Holmesburg, a junior at Lincoln, took part in the school's musical academy as well as its horticulture program. He was a singer who had roles in several school performances, and he did well academically, Anticoli said.

"He was a talented and artistic person," he said.

Recently, Wilkinson went on a class trip to Washington for students who had strong grades and attendance records, Anticoli said. He also attended the junior prom.

On Wednesday, he was hanging out with friends in Pennypack Park, on the edge of the Delaware, when a female friend fell into the water. Police said Wilkinson and a cousin jumped in to rescue her.

The other two survived, but Wilkinson could not escape the water. Police recovered his body Thursday.

Lincoln High has set up a "comfort center" where students who are struggling with the death can go to grieve, Anticoli said.

"The kids really miss him," Anticoli said. "They have had good times with him. He literally and unselfishly gave his life for someone else. This was a special person."

Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or asteele@phillynews.com.