'Two little girls having fun in the snow' turns to tragedy outside Arlington Heights church

 
 
Updated 1/21/2019 6:07 PM
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  • A bouquet of flowers was placed in the snow outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights on Monday, near where a 12-year-old girl died Sunday when a snow fort collapsed on top of her.

      A bouquet of flowers was placed in the snow outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights on Monday, near where a 12-year-old girl died Sunday when a snow fort collapsed on top of her. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • People hug in front of the Elk Grove Village house of 12-year-old Esther Jung on Monday afternoon. She died Sunday when a snow pile collapsed on her outside her father's Arlington Heights church.

      People hug in front of the Elk Grove Village house of 12-year-old Esther Jung on Monday afternoon. She died Sunday when a snow pile collapsed on her outside her father's Arlington Heights church. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl died Sunday when this snow bank collapsed on top of her and another child outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights.

      A 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl died Sunday when this snow bank collapsed on top of her and another child outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • A 12-year-old girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her and another girl Sunday outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights.

      A 12-year-old girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her and another girl Sunday outside Rothem Church in Arlington Heights. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Peg Gradl, the next-door neighbor of 12-year-old Esther Jung in Elk Grove Village, said she would often see Esther play in the snow. "Just having fun. How sad is that. Two little girls just having fun in snow," Gradl said after learning of Esther's death.

      Peg Gradl, the next-door neighbor of 12-year-old Esther Jung in Elk Grove Village, said she would often see Esther play in the snow. "Just having fun. How sad is that. Two little girls just having fun in snow," Gradl said after learning of Esther's death. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • An Arlington Heights police officer leaves the parking lot of Rothem Church in Arlington Heights, where a 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her.

      An Arlington Heights police officer leaves the parking lot of Rothem Church in Arlington Heights, where a 12-year-old Elk Grove Village girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

It wasn't unusual to see 12-year-old Esther Jung and a friend making a snow fort outside their Elk Grove Village home, next-door neighbor Peg Gradl says.

She was doing the same Sunday near the Arlington Heights church where her dad is pastor when authorities say a snow pile collapsed and claimed her life.

"Just having fun. How sad is that. Two little girls just having fun in snow," said Gradl, who described the sixth-grader as a sweet girl who helped her carry things from the car to the house. "It's so normal, but it's a danger we don't often think of. The snow comes and goes, so we don't think of it being dangerous."

Gradl, a neighbor of the Jung family for about five years, said Esther was the youngest of three children and loved animals. Her pets included a hamster, rabbit and dog.

She died as a result of asphyxia and hypothermia due to entrapment in the snow bank, according to the Cook County medical examiner's office, which performed an autopsy Monday. The office ruled her death accidental.

Authorities say the snow fort collapsed on top of her and a 9-year-old girl outside Rothem Church, 106 E. College Drive, where they were playing Sunday afternoon.

While snow completely covered Esther, 9-year-old Sophia Shin was up to her chest in snow and yelled for help, according to Jae Kim, the younger girl's great-uncle.

"She cried out, 'Help me. Help me,' but nobody heard it," Kim said Monday.

A bouquet of flowers was placed in the snow Monday outside the church, a Korean Christian congregation on the north side of Arlington Heights. Meanwhile at the family home on the west side of Elk Grove Village, family members gathered to console one another. They declined to comment.

Search holes remain in a snow bank where a 12-year-old girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her and another girl at Rothem Church in Arlington Heights.
  Search holes remain in a snow bank where a 12-year-old girl died Sunday after a snow fort collapsed on her and another girl at Rothem Church in Arlington Heights. - Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

The girls were attending services with their families at the church Sunday when they went outside to play, police said. After they hadn't returned about an hour later, family members started searching for them and found them under the snow. Authorities say the girls built a makeshift fort, which then collapsed.

Rescue crews responded to the scene at 2:41 p.m., and the girls were taken to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. Esther was pronounced dead at 4:30 p.m., according to the medical examiner's office.

Sophia was treated for hypothermia and was being held for observation, officials said.

Kim described Esther as an energetic and smart student.

She attended Collins Elementary School in Schaumburg, where the school's principal spoke with Esther's family Monday to provide support and any resources they might need, according to Terri McHugh, a spokeswoman for Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54.

While school was not in session Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, counselors will be available first thing Tuesday morning for any students or school staff who may need support, McHugh said.

Police are calling the incident a "tragic accident."

• Daily Herald staff writer Lauren Rohr contributed to this report.

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