Orange County music students were crushed to death by falling tree limb in Yosemite, coroner says

They were musicians and water polo players — two longtime friends on a camping trip to Yosemite National Park just before heading back to school in Orange County.

But as they slept at a popular campground early Friday, Dragon Kim and Justin Lee, both 14, were killed when a falling tree limb crashed into their tent.

Dragon’s parents announced his death in a message to members of the Northwood Water Polo Club in Irvine and expressed gratitude for their support.

“Thank you for taking him onto your team and loving him back,” they said in a letter.

The Kims said their family’s “hearts are forever broken.”

“We are in deep sorrow and mourning,” the Kims said.

In a final message to their son, his parents said, “Dragon, we love you so much. Thank you for bringing so much love, laughter, and music to our lives. You are our precious son and you will live on with us.”

Dragon would have been a sophomore and Justin a freshman at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana, where classes resume next week. They would have been reunited on campus after their time together at Tustin’s Pioneer Middle School.

Dragon, who lived in Tustin, and Justin, a resident of Irvine, were members of the performing arts school’s wind studies program.

“Every student and family contributes in no small measure to the community we create together at OCSA,” Dean of Arts Conservatories Teren Shaffer said in a statement. “The loss of any student, particularly in such a tragic and senseless manner, grievously wounds us all.”

On Friday, the youths were at the Upper Pines Campground, a popular site with families seeking a view of the Yosemite Valley’s Half Dome.

Witnesses heard a loud bang and a woman screaming, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Park rangers found the boys dead. Later, Mariposa County Assistant Coroner Andrea Stewart said an autopsy determined that they died of injuries from being crushed.

Park officials said Tuesday that the incident remains under investigation and declined to release more details. It is unclear why the black oak limb fell.

As preparations were being made Tuesday for memorial services for the boys, teachers and students were in mourning.

Grief counselors were at Pioneer Middle School, Orange County School of Arts and Beckman High School in Irvine. Many of the boys’ friends attend Beckman.

“It just hits close to home,” said Mark Eliot, spokesman for Tustin Unified School District, calling the deaths a tragic loss.

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA

ALSO:

Yosemite deaths illustrate a tragic but not uncommon risk in nature

Yosemite National Park campground to be closed while officials try to wipe out plague

Hunt continues for bear that attacked man near Yosemite National Park

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

12:30 p.m.: This story has been updated with the coroner determining the teens were crushed to death and with their ages.

11:51 p.m.: This story has been updated with information on the teens' involvement in music programs.

11:13 a.m.: This story has been updated with park officials declining to release more information and with a comment from the Tustin Unified School District.

This story was originally published at 6:23 a.m.

60°