A 13-year-old upstate New York boy died after he was trapped in a snow mound for nearly four hours, buried under the thick layer of snow with a friend as the pair played in the pile, officials said.
Police began searching for Joshua Demarest and his best friend, 12-year-old Tyler Day, when a concerned family member reported about 5 p.m. Tuesday that the boys had not come home before dark, which was out of character for the 7th graders, Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell told reporters.
Cops found footprints leading to an open lot off Rock Street, where the Department of Public Works crews clearing the streets were dumping snow.
When a K-9 unit uncovered a sled near the nearly 70-foot tall mound, police began frantically digging, using anything nearby to search for the children, Bell said.
“They moved an enormous amount of snow … [using] hands, shovels, snow rakes, to dig and recover those two boys,” Bell told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.
Demarest was found at about 7:15 p.m. and was rushed to Saratoga Hospital, but he could not be saved and was pronounced dead at 10:10 p.m.
Day was found shortly after his friend was taken out of the snow. He was rushed to the same hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia and released Wednesday.
He told authorities and his father that he and Demarest had been digging holes and building forts in the snow mound when he saw a truck coming down the roadway in their direction, Bell said.
“They’re young kids and they just burrowed in deeper into the snow bank,” Bell said. "[He] heard what he believed was beeping sounds and next thing you know, it went black."
It was not immediately clear if the plow buried the boys or if the holes and forts they were digging had collapsed on them.
Demarest’s family was already reeling from the loss of his grandmother, who had passed away at about 3 p.m. Tuesday, when they received the horrible news, officials and relatives said.
“With news at about 5pm that Josh was missing, [his mother] Rachael and her sister left New Jersey racing to be with Josh as details of the tragedy unfolded,” Demarest’s grandfather wrote on Facebook.
Loved ones were by the boy’s side at the hospital, and his mother and aunt arrived as efforts to revive him were halted, his grandfather wrote.
“Although he was unresponsive, we were able to stand beside him, hold his hand, whisper in his ear … We are devastated, thankful to live in a small village where support is strong and swift. May we all endure, and in love for one another, find an accepting peace,” he wrote.
The boys were believed to have been trapped for nearly four hours, as the last plow to deposit snow on the mound was at 3:30 p.m., Bell said.
“This is a true tragedy, this is an accident,” he said. "To exactly what happened, I don’t think we’ll ever know.”
A 39-year veteran, Bell said this is the second incident in which he’s seen something similar occur.
“I don’t know how we educate our kids, or tell them they can’t do that,” he said. "I think we’ve all done it here, one time, burrowed into a snow bank, but you never know. This is what happened last night and it turned tragic."
He commended the numerous emergency responders, including Forest Rangers, New York State Police and the Easton-Greenwich Rescue Squad on their efforts, noting they worked fast and were taking the tragedy hard, Schuylerville News reported.
Reflecting on his own feelings of loss, Bell said that when he received the call that a sled was uncovered, "my stomach, my heart; everything just dropped out of me."
Noting that his grandson was friends with Demarest, Bell said: "It affects us all in a real way."
Other officials in the county were also struggling with the tragic incident, trying to understand how to make sense of an innocent day of play gone wrong.
"As parents and educators, we so often say: 'Go outside. Be kids. Play and explore. Do something... anything. Please,'" the Greenwich Central School District said in a statement. "We never expect it to end tragically under a pile of snow or beneath the weight of a rock on a hiking trail, but twice in the last nine months this is what our school and community (the 7th grade class in particular) has had to endure."
In March, 12-year-old Connor McLaughlin, of Greenwich, was fatally struck by a falling boulder while hiking with his uncle at Roaring Brook Falls in the Adirondacks, authorities said.
“The coming days and weeks will undoubtedly be difficult," the district’s statement said. "Students will need shoulders to cry on, and so will you. Please know you have our full support in whatever you need. In the best of times, your impact on the children in your care inspires us and fills us with pride. And now, in the worst of times, your care and compassion for their well-being touches us."
The little boy was beloved, and regarded as a well-rounded, well-liked, good student who was part of the French club, officials said.
“His smile lit up the room. He was hard working, sweet and extremely kind. He was looked up to by his classmates” his 6th grade homeroom teacher told the newspaper.
“His life was a blessing. His memory a treasure. He was loved beyond words and will be missed beyond measure. God bless you all,” one donor wrote on a GoFundMe page created to pay for funeral expenses.
By Wednesday, the page had raised $9,700 of its $10,000 goal. To donate to the fund, click here.