Church, suburbs rally around family of 12-year-old killed in snow collapse
Around the small, tightknit community at Rothem Church in Arlington Heights, Esther Jung was known as the girl with the big heart.
When someone new needed a friendly greeting, or some task needed doing -- even if it involved lugging a 40-pound sack of rice -- the 12-year-old from Elk Grove Village was there to help.
"Esther was the one with the biggest heart of anyone," said Raymond Lee, whose father serves as an elder of the Korean Christian church. "If it involved taking in a newcomer or welcoming little kids, she was there, kind of like a big sister."
On Tuesday, two days after Esther died when a snow fort outside the church collapsed on her and a friend, the church community -- along with the suburbs at large -- rallied around her family.
A GoFundMe online fundraiser launched to support the Jung family had received nearly $15,000 in donations toward a $30,000 goal Tuesday night. Donations can be made at gofundme.com/in-loving-memory-of-esther-jung.
Esther's father is the church's pastor, and the family lives on his income alone, according to the fundraising page established by Lee. Money raised by the campaign will help pay funeral costs and support Esther's family.
While the church community most affected by the tragedy is only about 100 members, Lee said donations have been coming in from across the suburbs, and even from international donors.
"The outpouring of phone calls, emails and donations has been overwhelming," he said. "The story is tragic, but it strikes a chord with people, especially people with young kids."
Esther's family, he said, is devastated by the loss of the youngest child and faces challenges beyond grief and the financial impacts of their loss. Esther's mother recently opened a floral business, but it's uncertain when or if she will be able to continue, Lee said.
Her father plans to return to the pulpit as early as this weekend.
"I don't know where he gets the strength and the courage, but he wants to be there to preach," Lee said.
Authorities say Esther and 9-year-old Sophia Shin were playing outside the church Sunday afternoon when a snow fort they had built collapsed. Snow completely covered Esther, while Sophia was trapped in it up to her chest, according to Jae Kim, the younger girl's great-uncle. Sophia yelled for help, but nobody could hear her, Kim said.
When family members who were inside the church later went looking for the missing girls, they found the pair under the snow. Both were rushed to Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, where Esther later was pronounced dead.
Sophia was released from the hospital Monday after treatment for hypothermia, Arlington Heights police Sgt. Chuck Buczynski said.
Investigators are still trying to contact a few more people to help piece together a timeline of Sunday, but the investigation is otherwise done, Buczynski said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Christopher Placek contributed to this story.