Here's what other parents should know in the wake of this tragic event.
This is such a sad story. CNN has reported that two best friends were building a fort in a snow bank when it collapsed on them. Sadly, one of them, 13-year-old Joshua Demarest, lost his life after being buried under snow for three hours. His 12-year-old friend Tyler Day survived and was released from the hospital on Wednesday after recovering from hypothermia.
Apparently, the boys had crawled inside the snow bank to build the fort, and were later reported missing when they didn't return home at night. Searchers spotted their sled sticking out from the bank and started digging, removing seven tons of snow until they uncovered the boys. Joshua was rushed to a local hospital, where he died later that night.
So horribly sad. And while the cause of the accident is still under investigation, according to CNN, the police think a public works truck may have bumped into or dumped more snow on the fort while the boys were inside, forcing it to collapse on top of them.
This is a truly awful event and my heart goes out to Joshua's entire family. My brother and I used to build snow forts all the time back when we were kids, and it never once crossed our minds—or our parents' minds either, I'm sure—that our excited outdoor play could end in such tragedy. We turned to Lara McKenzie, PhD, MA, and principal investigator for the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, for advice on keeping our kids safe from accidents like this one.
According to McKenzie, the cases of kids who die while playing in snow forts and tunnels often fit a similar profile. "The children are usually school-age and generally old enough to play outside by themselves," she explained. "Kids who suffocate in the snow are also often playing by themselves when they become trapped in a snow structure. Children should not be left alone while they're playing outside. Even if they're not being supervised by a parent, a child who is playing with a friend who can call for help could be the difference between life and death."
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Parents should also be vigilant about enforcing snow-safety rules. "If children want to build snow structures in the yard, they should not be allowed to make roofs or form a tunnel that could collapse on them," McKenzie told us. "They should avoid playing or digging forts in snow banks where snow removal occurs, or where snow removal trucks are dumping excess snow."
We also spoke with Kyran Quinlan, M.D., MPH, associate professor and section director of General Pediatrics at Rush University Children's Hospital in Chicago. "It is totally understandable that kids would want to play and make forts and tunnels in the biggest pile of snow they can find, and the biggest pile of snow is probably where the trucks are dumping it," Dr. Quinlan told us. "To reduce the risk, municipalities could do what they can to make sure that no children are playing in the places where trucks are dumping snow that is removed. And families can try to guide children to avoid playing anywhere near where the trucks are dumping the snow." That being said, Dr. Quinlan also points out that what happened to Joshua was a unique and uncommon tragedy. "The vast majority of kids who build snow forts and tunnels will be safe," he explained. "I hope this event is not seen as a reason to stay inside in the winter, or not dig and play in the snow."
A GoFundMe page has been created to support the Demarest family. As of press time, more than $28,000 had been donated.
Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website holleeactmanbecker.com for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.