Family, friends mourn child killed after snow fort collapses: 'It's a danger we don't think of'

A bouquet of flowers marks the spot of Sunday’s bizarre and tragic accident in Arlington Heights involving a 12-year-old girl who died when a makeshift snow fort collapsed on top of her. 

Just outside the Rothem Korean Church, Esther Jung and 9-year-old Sophia Shin had built a snow fort in a four-foot-tall bank of snow when it suddenly collapsed, trapping the girls. 

On Monday, family members who were inside the church say they had no idea what had happened. The girls may have been trapped for an hour when family members went outside and discovered the collapsed snow fort.

Paramedics rushed the girls to Northwest Community Hospital, where Esther died. The Cook County medical examiner ruled her death accidental, caused by asphyxiation and hypothermia.

“Two little girls just having fun in the snow,” said Peg Gradl, a neighbor. “It’s so normal, but it’s a danger we don’t think of.”

Gradl lives next door to esters family in Elk Grove Village. She calls her a happy and helpful 12-year-old, who was attending sixth grade at Michael Collins elementary in Schaumburg.

Officials say counselors will be on hand Tuesday morning when school reopens.

Gradl says Esther enjoyed building snow forts in front of her home.

“Every winter, for years,” Gradl said. “When the snow plows came by, they’d pile up the snow against the side of the driveway. She and a friend or her brother would carve a snow fort out of that huge mountain of snow.”

The 9-year-old girl was treated for hypothermia and released from the hospital Monday. Police say they’ve closed their investigation and are simply calling it a tragic accident.