Greenwich mourns boy killed in snow bank

Youngster killed while playing in snow bank.
Joshua Demarest
Joshua Demarest

Joshua Demarest was a caring 13-year-old boy who loved to play soccer, football, anything outside, really.

“He was a nice young man by all accounts,” Greenwich Superintendent Mark Fish said Wednesday. “His modified soccer coach said this morning he was a good teammate; everybody liked him. He loved playing soccer, and he liked all kinds of sports. He liked to play.”

It was that desire to play that led the Greenwich Central School seventh-grader to burrow deep into a snowbank in a lot off Rock Street Tuesday afternooon with his friend and classmate, Tyler Day, 12. They later became trapped under snow when a plow came through. Demarest was pronounced dead at around 10 p.m. Tuesday night at Saratoga Hospital after he and Day were dug out of the snow pile, Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell said. His friend survived.

“He’s a 13-year-old boy; my goodness, we shouldn’t have to be having these conversations,” Fish said. “He went out to play in the snow and here we are after a tragic accident. I’m not sure I have any words.”

The accident marks the second time this year a member of the seventh-grade class died while enjoying the outdoors. In March, Connor McLaughlin, 12, of Greenwich, was struck and killed by a falling boulder while hiking with his uncle at Roaring Brook Falls in the Adirondacks.

“We have a group of 80 kids that have been through this once already,” Fish said. “Twelve-year-old kids shouldn’t have to be processing this, and certainly their level of grief is heightened because of their experiences here.”

He added, “What we tell them to do is go outside and do something, get away from those electronic games and TV screens, and unfortunately we had two tragic accidents.”

The Greenwich Board of Education released a statement on the district’s website: “As parents and educators, we so often say: ‘Go outside. Be kids. Play and explore. Do something . . . anything. Please.’ We never expect it to end tragically . . .”

Fish said administrators met with counselors, faculty and staff early Wednesday morning to go over the message of support they would deliver to students. School counselors will be available “for as long as we need it,” he said, with additional support coming from Glens Falls Hospital’s mobile crisis unit. After-school activities were canceled Wednesday.

Police began searching for the two boys after Demarest’s older sister reported that they had not returned before dark, Bell said. Police found footprints leading to the lot, which the village uses to dump snow after storm cleanups but does not own, he said. Police dogs were brought to the lot and one of them alerted rescuers to the snow pile.

That’s when rescuers started digging.

“I bet they moved seven tons of snow, easily, out of that pile by hand, shovel, snow rakes — I can’t even tell you what they used . . . to recover those two boys,” he said.

Demarest was recovered first, at around 7:15 p.m., and rescuers began CPR, Bell said. He was taken to Saratoga Hospital. Day was found a few minutes later; he started yelling and talking to his rescuers as they freed him from the pile, Bell said. He was also taken to Saratoga Hospital.

Demarest’s mother was in New Jersey at the time of the accident to deal with funeral arrangements for Josh Demarest’s grandmother, who died at around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Bell said.

“Our hearts go out to that family,” he said. “It’s just a tragic day all around.”

Demarest’s grandfather, Efton Thomas Jiles, of nearby Shushan said on Facebook that he was with his grandson during his final moments at Saratoga Hospital.

“Our grief is compounded because Josh’s grandmother, Pamela Gair Robinson Mahan, died only a few hours earlier,” he said in a post Wednesday. “My daughter, Rachael Jiles Demarest, was with her mother in New Jersey when Pam died at 3 p.m. With news at about 5 p.m. that Josh was missing, Rachael and her sister left New Jersey racing to be with Josh as details of the tragedy unfolded. . . .

“Although he was unresponsive [in the ER], we were able to stand beside him, hold his hand, whisper in his ear. Rachael and her sister arrived shortly after efforts were ended to revive Josh. We are devastated, thankful to live in a small village where support is strong and swift.”

Day, meanwhile, was treated for hypothermia and was home and resting Wednesday morning.

“In talking with Tyler last night in the emergency room . . . it’s a true tragedy, it’s an accident . . . and exactly what happened, I don’t think we’ll ever know,” Bell said.

He said Day told police they dug holes into the snowbanks and made forts. The boys heard trucks coming, and Day said he heard beeping sounds before everything went black, the police chief said.

Authorities believe the last truck to dump snow in the lot was there at around 3:30 p.m., which would mean the boys were stuck in the snow pile for more than three hours, Bell said.

Bell said there was no way plow operators could have known children were there. “They were on the backside, away from all the equipment where they were dumping the snow,” he said.

He also said there were no signs indicating the lot as dangerous, and wasn’t sure what could be done to prevent similar accidents considering the sheer number of snowbanks formed by plows in the village each year. Telling kids not to play in snowbanks might encourage them to do the opposite, he added.

“You hope the message gets across, that the kids understand this could possibly happen,” he said. “How do you do that? Do you put signs up on every snowbank?”

He added, “Do you tell a kid, ‘Don’t dig a hole in the snowbank’?”

Fish, too, hesitated to warn against playing in the snow.

“We’re processing the grief first,” he said. “There is a message of caution, and there are things to pay attention to, in all areas.”

The school superintendent said he remembered seeing Demarest playing outside with friends on the lawn outside his building before school.

“They’re always buzzing around there, and certainly his was a familiar face to me,” he said. “That’s one of the beauties of a small school like Greenwich, is the ability to know everybody. And the community knows everybody, so that makes it more difficult here, but I think the level of support is here as well because of that.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up in Demarest’s memorial. So far, it has raised over $22,000 from 507 donors. 

Gazette Content Editor Scott Donnelly contributed to this article.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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