10 years ago today, a tornado killed 4 Boy Scouts at Little Sioux camp

10 years ago today, a tornado killed 4 Boy Scouts at Little Sioux camp
World-Herald News Service

Monday marks the 10-year anniversary of the tornado that tore through the Little Sioux Scout Ranch in western Iowa, killing four Boy Scouts and injuring dozens of others.

On June 11, 2008, tragedy struck at the 1,800-acre camp about an hour north of downtown Omaha. An EF3 tornado, with 145 mph winds, descended on the remote camp, striking and leveling a cabin where campers had sought shelter as warnings of the storm circulated through the camp. A chimney at the cabin collapsed, sending heavy concrete blocks onto the Scouts.

Ben Petrzilka, Sam Thomsen and Josh Fennen, all 13, of Omaha, and Aaron Eilerts, 14, of Eagle Grove, Iowa, were killed. More than 40 people, most of them Scouts, were injured. Some suffered broken bones and bruises, and others underwent surgeries and faced months of recovery.

About 94 Scouts and 25 adults and youth leaders were at the camp, attending a leadership training program. Survivors described scenes of chaos and heroism, as well-trained Scouts sprung into action to administer first aid and take head counts.

“Sights I’ve seen, I’m never going to forget,” Trevor Ruffcom said after going into the camp to help after the tornado hit. He was a 14-year-old Boy Scout at the time.

Some of the surviving Scouts and the parents of the boys who died visited with then-President George W. Bush at the White House. A chapel was built on the site of the cabin that was destroyed.

There was no basement or in-ground shelter at the camp when the tornado hit. The following year, the Boy Scouts Mid-America Council launched a major fundraising campaign to build emergency shelters at all of its camps.

By 2013, two tornado shelters had been built at the camp, and a siren was added. The new structures have concrete walls, steel shutters and doors and emergency power backup, and were built to withstand an EF5 tornado.

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