Mt. Lebanon girl killed in 'freak accident' at camp Girl dies after limb from tree falls on her at camp

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A 14-year-old Mt. Lebanon girl described as outgoing, athletic and friendly was killed Wednesday night at a West Virginia residential camp when a 51-foot-long tree limb fell more than 30 feet onto her legs.

Leah Blum, who would have begun her freshman year at Mt. Lebanon High School this coming school year, was fatally injured at the 200-acre Emma Kaufmann Camp about 8 miles from Morgantown. The camp is owned and operated by the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.

The incident occurred at about 6:15 p.m. Immediately after the limb hit Leah, witnesses got her free and alerted the medical staff, who administered first aid and called 911, authorities said.

She was rushed to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, where she died. An autopsy report is expected to be completed within a week.

The tree limb, 4 feet in circumference, either struck Leah as she was in her tent or just outside it, Monongalia County Sheriff Al Kisner said at a news conference yesterday. The tree limb flattened two tents, but no other campers were injured.

The limb fell from what appeared to be a healthy tree, so authorities are currently at a loss to explain why it broke off.

Monongalia County detectives returned to the camp yesterday morning, continuing to investigate why the limb fell. Sheriff Kisner said there was rainy weather at the camp Wednesday evening. But, he added, "Believe me, it was not enough to break off a 4-foot-round tree limb."

At Mt. Lebanon's Jefferson Middle School, Leah was a member of the eighth-grade basketball team and chorus.

"She was the best friend anyone could ever have," said distraught classmate and good friend Kathleen Weston.

Kathleen's mother, Mary Anne, said her daughter was staying "pretty quiet" in grieving for her friend. The two did "what most teenage girls do, they hung out."

The news of the tragedy spread quickly through Mt. Lebanon with classmates text-messaging each other with the sad news, Ms. Weston said.

"[Leah] was very outgoing, loved to be physically active, played softball and basketball, and was a very good friend. She was funny," Ms. Weston said.

"She loved family, she loved her community and certainly was friendly to all kids, not just kids in her own grade. She was very fun-loving, very kind hearted."

Cathy Green Samuels, Jewish Community Center marketing and communications director, said senior staff went to be with the family.

"They are in shock, saddened and traumatized," she said. "We will continue to be in touch with the family to do whatever we can do to provide comfort."

Grief counselors were at the camp beginning Wednesday night, working with staff and campers to deal with the tragedy, the co-ed camp's first in the 101 years it has been in operation.

None of the other 380 campers has left the facility, and 90 percent of scheduled activities continued yesterday with the remaining 10 percent comprising grief counseling, Ms. Samuels said.

Amy Scott, of Squirrel Hill, whose daughters, Samantha, 16, and Jamie, 15, are at the camp, said she had been crying all day about Leah's death, although she didn't know the girl or her family.

"It could have been any one of our children. My daughter lived in a tent, too," she said.

Ms. Scott said that after hearing of the accident, she never considered going to get her daughters.

" ... I know they wouldn't want to leave. They are there with their support system -- their friends, their peers, counselors they have known and loved for years," said Ms. Scott. She and her husband were campers there in their youth.

Ms. Samuels said that at the JCC's Squirrel Hill facility "the mood is one of sadness, compassion, heartache. What's interesting is we're an organization of strength and our job is to help people. As saddened as the staff is, that is how they will be able to move through this."

The camp, which has been at its Cheat Lake site since 1972, is for children ages 7 to 16 and offers one- to eight-week camp sessions. Campers and staff come from the Pittsburgh area as well as Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Florida, Las Vegas, Spain, Israel, England and more, according to its Web site.

"EKC's emphasis is placed on Jewish values, informal education, Shabbat celebrations and premier programming and activities," the Web site said.

According to the camp's Web site, campers entering ninth and 10th grade live in Teen Village, an area available only to this age group.

Teen campers live in tents with a wooden platform, arranged in groups of four called "quads -- three for campers and one for staff. All tents have lights and electricity, and up to six campers can live in one tent. Quads are separated from each other by woods and green space.


Michael A. Fuoco can be reached at mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968. Victor Zapana can be reached at vzapana@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.


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