Camp Director Recalls Night Falling Trees Killed 12-Year-Old Boy

MANCHESTER, Md. (WJZ) — Heartbreak and questions still linger in Carroll County after a powerful storm topples trees, killing a 12-year-old boy and injuring several other kids at a popular Christian camp.

For the first time, WJZ hears from one of the counselors who describes the moments leading up to the terrifying ordeal.

Rick Ritter has details.

That camp director says the scene “looked like a bomb went off.” Even though one death is too many, he says they’re lucky the rest of the children survived.

Downed trees and devastation–the aftermath of a heart-wrenching ordeal that took the life of 12-year-old Justin Diggs.

“It looked like a bomb went off, like we were sitting there and all of a sudden a bomb went off,” said John Zeigenfuse, camp director of programs, River Valley Ranch.

Frantic moments haunt Zeigenfuse, who recalled the most terrifying experience of his life.

“The last image in my head is not cries of laughter, but cries of terror,” he said.

Tuesday night, storms rolled through Carroll County’s River Valley Ranch while campers were in an outdoor bible study. Within minutes, chaos erupted.

“Everywhere a kid was going a tree would fall down. And they’d go this way, then a tree would fall down,” said Zeigenfuse. “It was pretty crazy.”

More than 100 children were running for shelter up the trail when several trees started falling, killing 12-year-old Diggs and injuring eight others.

“We were lifting trees up, trying to pull kids out. Campers were unconscious at the time,” Zeigenfuse said.

Diggs’ parents and counselors describe the 12-year-old from Baltimore as a happy, upbeat young boy who was admired by many.

“He loved the outdoors, he loved people and he loved the Lord,” said Zeigenfuse.

Other parents got to take their kids home that night, realizing just how lucky they were.

“We came and she was safe in the buffalo lodge. She had a smile on her face,” said parent Anne Lanford.

They know this crisis could have been even worse.

“I think we’re very fortunate, very blessed. Divine intervention. Whatever you want to call it,” Zeigenfuse said.

After the tragic accident, campers were sent home. They are expected to return Sunday afternoon. The children who were hospitalized are expected to make a full recovery.

The state is still investigating the camp, but not the tragic incident itself.

River Valley Ranch and Justin’s friends are raising money to celebrate his life. If you’re interested in donating, click here.

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