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updated: 8/27/2012 10:56 AM

Palatine boy drowns while at family reunion

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A 13-year-old Palatine boy died after slipping from a rope swing near downstate Effingham just a day before he was set to begin eighth grade.

Ben Stepp was at a family reunion when he slipped off the rope swing, hit his head on the ground and slipped into a body of water Saturday.

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The water was deep and rescue crews were not able to reach his body immediately, according to a family statement.

Ben had a faint pulse when he was pulled from the water, according to his family.

He was taken to Saint Anthony Memorial Hospital in Effingham before being airlifted to St. Louis Children's Hospital. Ben died at 3:30 a.m. Sunday.

"He was a very active student, very much involved in the school community," said Jason Dietz, principal at Walter R. Sundling Jr. High School. "He was well liked by not only the students, but the staff as well."

Ben was a peer mentor and was at the school on Thursday helping incoming seventh graders get acclimated to the new building, Dietz said.

"It's difficult because it's obviously the first day of school, we are going to be working with our staff and crisis team to plan accordingly," he said.

Ben was well known at many other schools in the district because of his involvement in the community, which included swimming with the Palatine Park District, Dietz said. Ben was also a member of the school band.

District support staff and counselors will also be at Lincoln Elementary School Monday, where Ben's sibling attends, according to Dietz.

The Effingham County Sheriff's Office was investigating the accident, but was not available for comment Sunday night.

Arrangements will be made at the Ahlgrim Funeral Home in Palatine.

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