Scouts Killed in Tornado Mourned

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The families and friends of the four teenage Scouts who were killed in a tornado at an Iowa Boy Scout camp are trying to cope with the loss of the young leaders, while others are hoping for the full recovery of the injured.

In Omaha, Neb., on Thursday night, hundreds gathered, many of them in Scout uniforms, for a candlelight vigil to remember the four: Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa; and Josh Fennen, 13; Sam Thomsen, 13; and Ben Petrzilka, 14, all of Omaha -- all of whom had been selected as leaders in their local troop and had been invited to attend the special week-long training.

Click play to hear comments from Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America, as scouts, friends and family gather together to honor the four at a candlelight vigil.

Now, family members are preparing for funeral services. A memorial service will be held for Josh Fennen on Saturday, but his funeral and burial will be in Texas. On Monday, Aaron Eilerts' funeral will take place and on Tuesday, funerals for Ben Petrzilka and Sam Thomsen at their local Catholic churches.

Coping through Prayer, Action

The family of Sam Thomsen is relying on faith to cope with his death, and their church in Omaha is rallying around them, according to the family's pastor.

Pastor Jim White of the Southwest Church of Christ said many people have been extending their love and support to the grieving family. He said that church members and friends had blessed their home with food - and lots of prayer.

White recalled Sam as active leader in Sunday School, saying he recently attended a national youth church program and delivered a sermon at the church on Samuel from the Bible after his return.

Sam's mother, Sharon Thomsen, believes her son's life had a purpose.

"It's been a real blessing to see all the people that Sam impacted just rallying around us. It's very touching, the storie that are coming out. And we know that he had a purpose. Has a purpose still. We're very confident of that," she told ABC News.

The family of another victim, Ben Petrzilka, set up funds at two banks to raise money to build underground storm shelters at the Little Sioux Scout Ranch, said John Nordmeyer, Petrzilka's uncle.

Wrong Spot, Wrong Time

"It's hard to wrap your brain around it," scoutmaster Doug Rothgeb said of the horrific tornado that tore through the elite camp on Wednesday night.

"It's something that as parents and scouters, we know the risks. We know the boys know what they're doing. Those four boys ended up in the wrong spot at the wrong time. It's all Mother Nature."

The bodies of the four fallen scouts were found near the collapsed stone chimney of the multipurpose building where Scouts gathered to socialize, said Lloyd Roitstein, an executive with the Mid-America Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

The 145 mph tornado had destroyed the building where the boys had taken shelter.

At least 12 people remained hospitalized late Thursday, including four who were in serious but stable condition at Mercy Medical Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

'They Know What to Do'

Dozens of the Scouts, ages 13 to 18, are being praised as heroes for their acts of bravery and resourcefulness.

"There were some real heroes at this Scout camp," Gov. Chet Culver said, adding that he believes the Scouts saved lives while they waited for paramedics to cut through the trees and reach the camp a mile into the woods.

The 93 boys had taken part in a mock emergency drill with 25 staff members just a day before the twister hit.

"They knew what to do, they knew where to go, and they prepared well," Roitstein said.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff toured the camp. He said it appeared that the Boy Scouts "didn't have a chance" and that the tornado came through the camp "like a bowling ball."

Hailed as Heroes

In the meantime, tales of valor emerged from the camp.

Roitstein said a group of Scouts pulled the camp ranger and his family from their destroyed home. Scoutmaster Rothgeb said his 15-year-old son emerged from a ditch where he had taken cover, then joined other Scouts to break into the equipment shed.

Fourteen-year-old Zach Jessen remembered that before the tornado hit, someone noticed a rotation in the clouds and that an alarm went off in the multipurpose building. A short time later, someone began shouting to get under the tables, Jessen said.

"All of a sudden, the tornado came and took the building," he said. "It sounded like a giant freight train going right over the top of you."

Another scout, 16-year-old Charles Bowerman, recalled taking cover under a table and watching chairs go airborne. The very force of the twister sent Bowerman flying across the floor and out onto the grass.

"I was going to the Lord's side, and I was going to go there flying," he told the New York Times."It felt like I was about to be lifted up. I just hugged the ground as much as I could."

The governor declined to address inquiries as to whether the Scouts should have stayed at the campground after severe weather alerts were issued.

"There's always lessons learned from any natural disaster, from any tragedy," Culver said. "We need to focus on the victims, the families affected."

The 1,800-acre camp is located in the Loess Hills in westernmost Iowa, not far from the Nebraska line, about 40 miles north of Omaha.

Source: The Associated Press, New York Times, ABC News

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