US teenager dies in arms of British girls in freak camp accident

By Marcus Dysch, July 30, 2009

An American teenager has died in the arms of two British camp leaders following a freak accident.

Leah Blum, who was 14, was killed after a 51ft branch fell 30ft from a tree and crushed her as she played with other youngsters in a tent.

Sophie Greenfield, of Radlett, and Leeds University student Tash Nineberg, both 21, rushed to help, but found Leah critically injured.

The British youth leaders had been in a neighbouring tent when the accident happened at the Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, West Virginia, USA, on Wednesday last week.

Sophie’s father said: “We have not had much contact so it’s been hard to ascertain the mood. They are all numb. They are 21-year-old girls there as a team and as friends.

“She had Leah in her arms [as she died]. Our thoughts go out to Leah’s family and all those involved.
“Sophie and Tash want to stay there and help the other children get over it. It’s hard enough to understand as an adult, let alone for the children. The camp is doing the best it can. We cannot imagine what they are all going through.”

The teenager was buried on Sunday. Around 30 children from the camp and a dozen members of staff travelled to Pittsburgh for the service. A separate memorial service was held at the camp.

The Emma Kaufmann Camp centre is owned by the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) of Greater Pittsburgh.

Children aged between seven and 16 can spend up to two months at the centre during their school holidays, taking part in activities such as horse riding, kayaking and Jewish education.

Brian Schreiber, president of the JCC, said children were being offered counselling and staff were moving quickly to resume normal activities.

Despite the accident, almost none of the 380 children left the camp. Mr Schreiber said: “We have had one parent who brought their child home for several days, but who is planning to bring her back. We have had no other people who have left camp at this time.

“The camp is not going to be abbreviated in any way, and if you look at the literature of other camps that have experienced tragedies, they strongly encourage resuming normal activities as quickly as possible.”

The county sheriff for the camp neighbourhood, Kenneth Kisner, said: “There hasn’t been anything anybody reported that’s led us to believe the limb of the tree broke off for some other reason than just its weight — it was a pretty good size.

“The tent offered very little resistance for something that big.”

Lee Chottiner, executive editor of the Jewish Chronicle of Pittsburgh, contributed to this report.

Last updated: 4:12pm, July 30 2009