He won't be at the piano this Sunday as planned, accompanying songs for the annual children's program, but Paul Ostler will still be at the center of a meeting one hurriedly scheduled to honor his memory.
Mourning is already under way for Ostler, a 15-year-old Eagle Scout killed by lightning Tuesday night during a severe thunderstorm in the Uinta Mountains. Three other boys were injured and hospitalized by the bolt, which struck about 10 p.m.
"I watched him as a boy, and I watched him grow up into a mature, sweet, sensitive young man," Alan Dayton, Ostler's neighbor and church group leader, said Wednesday. "You hear of people being lost in traffic accidents or lost and not found, but to have someone you love and know and care about involved in such a tragic accident makes you realize that every time it happens, there is an entire community, a family and brothers and sisters that love the person who is now missing," he said.
Ostler's charisma and generosity will also be missed, perhaps the most by younger Boy Scouts struggling to complete the last leg of treks he was regularly involved in.
"He watched out for a lot of the young kids, and he was always willing to help out, even offering to carry their backpack for them," said John Barney, bishop of the Salt Lake Wasatch Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sponsor of Ostler's Scout troop.
Barney said that in an area where young people are sparse, "to lose one, it leaves a void." Ostler, he said, met or exceeded all the attributes on the Boy Scout list, particularly "Be cheerful."
"He had a great smile, and his smile rubbed off on other people," Barney said. "He comes from a family where they were taught to be good citizens and good people."
Once, when Ostler exhibited a slight disrespect for his mother by neglecting to hold a door for her, she reacted by posting him at the neighborhood ShopKo, where he was told to hold the door for anyone who came to the store during a two-hour period. At another time, he volunteered himself and a friend to dig a ditch for a neighbor who was struggling to dig it on his own."He's the kind of person who would grow from experiences like these," Dayton said.
An explosive strike
Doug Edwards, one of two adult leaders for Troop 56, said the lightning strike sounded like a "stick of dynamite" exploding. He said at a news conference Wednesday outside Primary Children's Medical Center that, although he did not witness a flash, he immediately knew lightning had hit the shelter where his 13-year-old son Matt and five other Scouts had bedded down for the night.
Within about 30 seconds, two men from the next camp over, who happened to be physicians, came running up the trail, said Troop 772 leader Greg Martin.
Dr. Morris Matthews, an anesthesiologist at Cottonwood Hospital, and Dr. Steve Morris, director of the University of Utah Hospital's trauma unit and co-director of the hospital's burn unit, were in their camp about 200 yards from the victims when they said they heard people calling for help.
"There were two boys on the floor of the cabin," Matthews said. "One looked dazed but was breathing. The other boy was lifeless."
Morris said Ostler showed some signs of life after initial CPR, but he could not be revived.
"This is an extremely traumatic experience for these boys," Edwards said. "Troop 56 is a small troop. These boys are very close."
Edwards' son, Matt, did not require CPR and was expected to be released from the hospital today. The mother of another boy, Kurtis Loosli, attended the news conference but didn't speak. Loosli and another boy, whose name was not released, were reported to be in good condition with unspecified burn injuries.Edwards said Matt, who was in a sleeping bag in the north corner of the cabin, suffered first-degree burns on his feet, legs and across his neck.
A profound sorrow
Ostler's family released a statement to media Wednesday expressing gratitude to leaders and physicians at the camp "who tried so valiantly to save Paul's life." They said Ostler, an Eagle Scout who would have been a sophomore at East High School this year, was lying in his cot when the lightning struck.
"We are grateful to Paul's good friends who were with him," the statement said. "We are grateful they are recuperating and send our love to them and to their families. . . . Paul is well-loved and will be missed more than you can imagine."
Members of Troop 56 were among 260 Scouts and leaders who were participating in a weeklong encampment at Camp Steiner near Mirror Lake.
"I can't tell you how profound our sorrow is for this family," said Kay Godfrey, spokesman for the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America. "It's devastating to us. We have 75,000 youth, and they're all our youth."
Very few of the other 260 campers at Camp Steiner probably knew of the tragedy Tuesday night, Godfrey said.
Members of the boys' troop, however, packed up and went home immediately following the incident, said Duchesne County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Wally Hendricks. By the time detectives arrived at the camp at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, the troop was gone.The remainder of the camp was told what happened Wednesday morning, and Scouts and leaders were able to use an emergency satellite phone at the camp to talk to loved ones, Godfrey said. "Very few, if any, are leaving," Godfrey said. "Camp will march on, despite the tragedy."
The safest place
Scouts at Camp Steiner sleep in shelters called "Adirondacks," which are a type of a three-walled log cabin with an front open. Edwards said the shelter hit by lightning had 12 bunks.
While Edwards said they noticed a storm moving in, he said the log shelter was the safest place they could have been at the time.
"I don't know if you could be any more prepared for that," Godfrey said. He called the odds of a lightning strike on an Adirondack "unfathomable."
"Even if this happened in the parking lot of a hospital, I'm not sure things could have been different," Morris said.
Camp Steiner is the highest camp, at 10,400 feet, in the United States, Godfrey said, and is the Great Salt Lake Council's gem. This year is its 75th anniversary, and it is booked before any of the council's other Scout camps.
Some of the shelters are old, Godfrey said, but a few were recently refurbished, and renovations happen when needed.
The lightning hit a tree next to the cabin, ran down the trunk and jumped about a foot to a nail head in the cabin's beams, said Paul Moore, a Boy Scout executive for the Great Salt Lake Council. The bolt burned a small portion of the cabin's outside wall and splintered a beam but did no other damage to the structure.
Because of the camp's distance from the nearest hospital, defibrillators and a certified medical personnel were on hand.
With EMTs on staff and good transportation and communication systems, Morris said, the camp was as prepared for this kind of accident as it could have been.
Lightning is common in the Uinta Mountains, said Kathy Jo Pollock, spokeswoman for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
"There are thunderstorms almost every afternoon," she said.
Hendricks said lightning-related fatalities happen every year in Duchesne County. "It's unfortunate for two reasons," he said. "One, that it happens, and two, that it's not uncommon."
But in the 15 years since Godfrey has been the council's spokesman, a Scout has never been hit by lightning at a Scout camp, he said.
A powerful line of thunderstorms rolled across much of Utah Tuesday night, causing flash floods in the southwestern part of the state and taking out a bridge and closing a highway.
Ostler is the third Scout to be killed by lightning in less than a week. On July 28, an assistant Scoutmaster and a 13-year-old Scout were killed by a lightning strike in California's Sequoia National Park.And it's been a season of deadly accidents for the Scout organization. Four Scout leaders at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Virginia were electrocuted July 24 in front of several Scouts after they lost control of the towering metal pole at the center of a large, white dining tent, sending it toppling into nearby power lines.
Contributing: Associated Press