Police are calling the death of a 12-year-old girl a “tragic accident” after a snow fort collapsed while she was playing with a friend outside a church.
Esther Jung and a nine-year-old girl built a fort on Sunday using piled-up snow at the side of Rothem Church in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Police said the location of the fort was around the corner from the church’s front doors. That put both girls out of sight while church members attended a service inside a windowless building.
Sgt. Charles Buczynski told Global News it was unclear how the snow collapsed or how high the fort was because searchers had trampled the snow before first responders arrived.
Jung is a daughter of the church’s pastor. A search for the girls began about an hour after they went outside to play.
“There are no cameras outside, so we don’t know exactly how long they were trapped underneath the snow,” Buczynski told Global News.
The nine-year-old girl was partially buried, according to her uncle Jae Kim.
“She cried out, ‘Help me. Help me,’ but nobody heard it,” Kim told ABC.
The temperature at the time was about -14 C.
Jung suffered asphyxiation and hypothermia, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. She was pronounced dead in hospital approximately two hours after her discovery.
Jung’s neighbour, Peg Gradl, said she loved to build forts and called her death “sad.”
“Two little girls just having fun in the snow,” Gradl told ABC. “It’s so normal, but it’s a danger we don’t often think of.”