Cypress teen crushed by tree at Boy Scout camp in Georgia

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter, Lea Wilson - Digital News Editor, AP Author

COVINGTON, Ga. - A 14-year-old boy from Cypress was killed Monday when a tree fell on his tent at a Georgia Boy Scout camp, authorities said.

The Newton County coroner identified the teen as Elijah Knight, a Scout from Cypress. The coroner deemed the death accidental and said the office is still determining the exact cause of death. Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jeff Alexander told news outlets Monday that Elijah Knight died at the Bert Adams Scout Camp in Newton County. Powerful storms rolled through the area around 4 p.m., forcing campers to take shelter in their tents. The severe thunderstorms downed multiple trees, including the one that fell on the boy's tent and crushing him.

"Trees were felled by the wind. A tree did, unfortunately, fall on one of the campers and the camper is deceased. There was severe blunt force trauma to his head and chest," Alexander said. "He and his tent mate were actually in the tent together."

Knight was one of dozens of Boy Scouts from the southeast region visiting the camp for a week-long summer Scout jamboree. His death is being ruled accidental and they are working to determine the cause of death.

Authorities said heavy winds and rain quickly swept through the area toppling nearly 60 trees on the 1,300-acre camp.

"This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family," the president for the Atlanta-area Council of Boy Scouts Tracy Techau said in a statement. "We offer our deepest condolences to the victim and his family, and we will support them in any way that we can. Please join us in keeping all those affected in your thoughts and prayers."

Bert Adams Camp is in Covington, Georgia, about 35 miles east of Atlanta. Officials said the incident happened on the southern end of the campus.

Local meteorologists said wind gusts reached between 40 and 50 mph during the storm. 

The National Weather Service issued a thunderstorm warning at 3 p.m., set to expire at 4 p.m., but expired early at 3:49 p.m. Officials said the boy died around 3:45 p.m.

KPRC uncovered that starting April 30, 2018, Boy Scouts of America had made it a policy that "direct contact" leaders take Hazardous Weather Training.

The reasoning for the training references a situation this year at a camp in Washington, that appears to be similar to the situation at the Bert Adams Boy Scout Camp:

"Effective April 30, 2018, new direct contact leaders must complete Hazardous Weather Training to be considered position trained. And here is one story about why this is so important.

Imagine as a leader with a group of excited Scouts you arrive at a council camp for a camporee on a rainy Friday afternoon. Saturday morning is filled with the sounds of Scouts participating in the scheduled activities, only to have the weather turn blustery with sustained winds of about 30 mph and gusts up to 48 mph. The trees of the heavily forested area start swaying madly back and forth.

As a leader, what would you do? Would you continue with the camporee or evacuate the camp?

This was exactly the situation experienced earlier this year at Pacific Harbors Council’s Klondike Derby held at Camp Thunderbird. According to the National Weather Service, sustained winds of about 30 mph with gusts up to 48 mph were recorded near the camp between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday.

It soon became apparent to leaders that conditions had become unsafe and, around midmorning, with input from the council representative and Camp Thunderbird’s ranger, leaders decided to evacuate the camp.

“We made sure that we followed the Boy Scout Guide to Safe Scouting and our hazardous weather training to ensure that all scouts and adults made it home safe,” said Barb Dyer, Klondike committee chairwoman. “It was the right decision to cancel Klondike. While it’s disappointing that the boys couldn't have the fun-filled weekend that was planned, I’m eternally grateful that safety is first with the BSA.”

A good decision it was, as several large trees and branches dropped on or near Scout campsites during the storm. No injuries were reported, but it could have turned out differently. Rebecca Ledford, an adult leader with Troop 4,100, shared a photo of her son’s tent, which had been impaled by a heavy fallen branch -- right where his pillow was.

On Sunday morning the “all clear” was given for scouts and leaders to return to retrieve their belongings and break down their campsites.

KPRC/ AP 2018