Church members here, stunned by the accidental death of a Beehive girl during a stake girl's camp, have offered an outpouring of love and support to friends and family members.
Jennifer Bike, 12, a member of the Trumbull 3rd Ward in the New Haven Connecticut Stake, was killed July 10 during a "typical storm that turned into a very severe storm without any warning," said Abe Sancher, first counselor in the ward's bishopric.Three other girls in the ward were also injured in an unexpected tornado that roared through the state.
The girls arrived at Black Rock State Park, approximately 40 miles north of Milford, for a week of camping and activities. "The girls had just set up camp when the storm came through between 5 and 6 p.m.," Sancher said. The 12 girls and their advisers were occupying two tents, which were the only tents damaged in the storm.
"Three trees, intertwined, fell on one tent simultaneously," Sancher reported. Several girls were trapped under the trees. Jennifer was killed instantly and her older sister, Melanie, 16, suffered a broken neck, paralyzing her from the neck down. Sancher's 15-year-old daughter, Sarah, suffered a crushed disc, but retains feeling in her legs, and another girl, 12-year-old Jamie King, stayed overnight in the hospital but was released the next day.
Girls in the other tent were also trapped by falling trees. Rescue units werecalled to assist in removing the trees and freeing those trapped in both tents.
The ward, which covers three cities, is small and close-knit, said the elders quorum president, Warren Felsch. "People were calling and offering to help. Everyone in the ward knew what had happened within a few hours."
On June 11, more than 20 ward and stake members drove back up to the park to retrieve the belongings left behind. "We had so many people volunteer to go up with us, we had to start turning them down," Sancher said.
"They had to use chain saws to get some of the stuff out," said one ward member. "It looked like a bomb had blown up or something."
The girls, their parents and the advisers gathered that afternoon for a "talk session," noted Sancher. (The bishop, who was on vacation, cut his vacation short and was en route back to Connecticut.) "We're letting them air their feelings, talk about what happened, ask questions," said Sancher. A Church psychologist will be called to help those involved if necessary, he noted.
"Obviously, there are some deep emotions and some typical questions," he continued. "We're trying to address those questions and talk about answers. An emphasis is being placed on having faith in the Lord and moving forward.
"Overall, the mental and physical health of the girls is good. I believe all the girls in the stake are planning on attending the funeral [July 13T and participating in a musical number."
Offers of help from members have been overwhelming, observed Sancher. "The whole stake is really pulling together. The phone has been ringing off the wall with condolences for Debbie Bike (Melanie's and Jennifer's mother) and offers to help wherever needed." The mother is not a member of the Church, but "attends faithfully and helps out with our sports program," said Sancher.
"If anything is coming out of all this, it's how important a knowledge of the gospel is," said Sancher. "Many of these young women have never dealt with death this closely before, but it's amazing how well they understand. It's been a fearful, strange tragedy, but everyone is responding with a growing faith in the Lord and a desire to help and support each other."