Three 13-year-olds and a 14-year-old — all Boy Scouts — were killed by the tornado which swept through a Boy Scout campground last night shortly after 6:30. The governors of Iowa and Nebraska held a news conference in Blencoe, Iowa — which is near the camp — just after eight o’clock this morning. Governor Chet Culver extended sympathy to the "entire Boy Scout nation."
"There were some real heroes at the scout camp," Culver told reporters. "These young men made it into the bunker. They made it into the bunk house and then after the tornado hit directly on the bunk house, they immediately started helping each other…They set up their own mini triage unit because they’re trained and that’s what these young leaders have learned how to do, to take care of each other, especially those in need."
Nebraska’s governor also praised the scouts for their quick reactions to what he said was almost unimaginable damage. "It’s devastation. It’s very, very difficult to look at," he said. "You see that bunkhouse and in some ways it’s amazing that we didn’t’t lose more lives than we did."
Governor Dave Heineman also praised the scouts on the scene for their reaction to the tragedy. "They responded in true boy scout fashion and I think we need to recognize them for what they did," Heinenman said.
Governor Culver said emergency crews from a dozen surrounding communities descended on the area after the tornado swept through, but had to literally cut their way through the trees that were blocking the road into the camp. That’s why the reaction of camp counselors was so crucial, according to Culver. "They were the real heroes, these young men — these camp directors and these youth counselors and others who literally saved lives during this time period when emergency management could not get to them for a lot of reasons," Culver said.
The tornado’s devastation comes amidst a flood fight in over half of the state of Iowa. "We will get through this. Iowans are resilient. The Boys Scouts are resilient. Officials involved in this are saddened and it’s certainly a blow right to the gut, but we’re going to be with these families," Culver said. "We’re going to respond and we’re going to recover together."
Chaplains from the Iowa State Patrol were on the scene last night along with counselors dispatched by Iowa emergency management. The Boys Scouts of America plans to make grief counseling available not only to those who were at the camp when the tornado struck, but to their parents and others in the boy scout troops which had members at the camp. Fourteen-year-old Aaron Eilerts of Eagle Grove, 13-year-old Josh Fennen of Omaha; 13-year-old Sam Thomsen of Omaha, 14-year-old Ben Petrzilka of Omaha were killed by the tornado.
Click on the audio link below to listen to the news conference in Blencoe.