Senior at Minnesota high school killed in Montana avalanche
GROVE CITY, Minn. — Students and staff in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District are mourning the loss of high school senior Zach Junkermeier, who was killed Tuesday in an avalanche in Montana.
Junkermeier, 18, of Lake Lillian, was snowmobiling with friends — including others from the Atwater and Lake Lillian community — when he was swept away by an avalanche near Cooke City, Mont.
“Today is the day everybody’s numb and in shock and at a loss for words,” said Superintendent Sherri Broderius.
“Students don’t know what to do. Teachers don’t know what to say. Nobody does,” said Broderius, who had little sleep after being notified Tuesday night by the Atwater police chief that Junkermeier had died in the accident that afternoon.
Local ministers and school counselors with the Southwest/West Central School Crisis Response Team were at ACGC all day Wednesday, meeting one on one with students and staff.
They also met with small groups of people involved in activities with Junkermeier, including the football team, track team and Spanish club. Junkermeier had been scheduled to travel to Puerto Rico in a couple of weeks with other Spanish students.
Broderius said the school was doing everything it could to support students and Junkermeier’s family, including his brother, an eighth-grader at ACGC.
“There is no greater loss than the death of a child,” Broderius said. “We’re here to support the family in any way we can.”
According to the Park County Sheriff’s Office in Montana, Junkermeier was riding with six friends in the Daisy Pass/Crown Butte area when officials with the Yellowstone National Park Dispatch were notified at 4 p.m. Tuesday that a snowmobiler had been buried in a large avalanche estimated to be 500 feet wide, 600 feet long and 20 feet deep in areas.
In a brief interview Wednesday, Park County Undersheriff Scott Hamilton said Junkermeier was stopped midway up the slope and another snowmobile and rider were crossing above his location when the avalanche was triggered.
The Associated Press reported that Junkermeier was trying to start his snowmobile at the time.
Hamilton said all members of the snowmobile party were from the Atwater and Lake Lillian area.
Broderius said she was aware that some ACGC students had been snowmobiling in Montana and that some had returned home.
But Broderius said she did not know if ACGC students had been with Junkermeier when the avalanche happened and did not know whether any ACGC students were still in Montana.
Junkermeier, who was not wearing a rescue beacon, was found around 5 p.m. Tuesday under 6 feet of snow near the toe of the debris field, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Office.
Rescuers performed CPR but were unable to revive him.
The sheriff’s office also reported that one member of the snowmobile party tried to outrun the avalanche, was knocked off his machine and hit some trees but was not buried in the snow and was not seriously injured.
That person’s identity was not reported.
As one of just 49 seniors in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School, Junkermeier was well-known in the school district and community.
Broderius described Junkermeier as a “good friend to so many people” and an “outstanding” football player and pole vaulter on the Falcons track team.
“I’m sure Zach touched the lives of people that he knows on football teams in other districts, other jumpers, other track teams in other districts, other coaches,” Broderius said.
News of Junkermeier’s death was like a rock being thrown into a pond with “ripples that go out,” said Broderius, who praised the crisis team for providing advice to staff and opportunities for students to share their memories of Junkermeier and talk about their grief.
ACGC was the fifth southwest Minnesota school to which the crisis team had been called in the last week, falling on the heels of student deaths in Sleepy Eye, Springfield, Windom and Dawson-Boyd.
An ACGC counselor who is part of the crisis team had been scheduled to be in the Dawson-Boyd district Wednesday to provide continued support after the weekend death of a student there. Instead, the counselor was needed in her home district to provide support to her co-workers and students, Broderius said.
Kelly Boldan contributed to this story.