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Search for Lunden continues

| Friday, July 25, 2003

ARNOLD: As divers searched a third day in the muddy Allegheny River to recover the body of 6-year-old Lunden Butler, family and friends of the apparently drowning victim tearfully waited for closure.

Grief counselors tried to get them to remember the good times with the boy who enjoyed joking with his two sisters and cousin. And for the first time, the boy's mother, Barbara "Annie" Butler spoke about the events leading up to the tragedy.

About 8 p.m. Tuesday, Lunden apparently slipped off a floating fishing pier behind the baseball field at the bottom of Drey Street. High, raging river water from recent downpours overpowered the boy, who was with 9-year-old cousin Crystal Wyble at the time.

By 8:30 p.m. Thursday, volunteers trolling the river hadn't found him and were called off the river. There were at least six boats searching with dragging hooks and just as many divers. A low-flying airplane searched the river from Tarentum to Aspinwall and back until dark. Sonar and cameras were used to "look" underwater, but debris floating downriver often threw off the searchers.

Arnold Police Chief Ronald Hopkins said a scaled-down search -- possibly with sonar and underwater cameras, but no divers -- would resume this morning.

Lunden's last moments Tuesday evening were spent around the family dinner table, his mother said. He ate all his macaroni, all his green beans, but wouldn't finish his pork chops. He agreed to do so only if he got more Kool-Aid. His mother obliged.

After dinner, his mother told Lunden to get some swimming clothes from his grandmother's house a block away, and to take his older cousin, Crystal, with him. The swimming clothes were meant for activities Wednesday at his daycare, Athena Child Care in New Kensington.

"He never came back," Barbara Butler said, choking back tears.

She's not sure why Lunden and Crystal went to the river, but she indicated frustration with the new fishing pier, which the city unveiled earlier this year to increase recreational opportunities.

"The pier down here, I guess they (kids) see it as something to play on," Barbara Butler said. "There's that driveway that leads down to it -- it sort of calls to them. I feel it should be fenced off."

Family friend Cheryl Johnson, 43, of New Kensington recalled how earlier this spring, her granddaughter and some other youngsters were about to jump off the pier to go swimming. They would have done so if it hadn't been for a passing Arnold patrolman who stopped them, Johnson said.

Lunden was scheduled to start first grade at Greenwald Elementary School this fall in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

Pamela Williams, a grief counselor with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, spent most of Wednesday and Thursday consoling family members.

"We let them do the talking about how they feel," said Williams, also a New Kensington firefighter. "We get them to do a lot of hugging and touching. We tell them it's no one's fault. One of the sisters thought it was someone's fault -- it's not.

"We talked about him being in heaven, and that was very important to them."

Lunden's father lives in Pittsburgh and has been aggrieved as well, Williams said.

Williams walked around the ballfield Thursday with her arms over the shoulders of Lunden's sister, Tarashae Butler, 8, and his cousin Crystal.

Both of the children recalled Lunden's sense of humor.

"Me and him were playing at our friends' house. He made up a funny joke," Crystal said. She giggled as she remembered it, but wouldn't spit it out.

Tarashae remembers spiking Lunden's hair with gel, just for the fun of it. There also were plenty of swimming pool memories.

"We went swimming at the wave pool and Lunden did a cannonball and splashed everybody," Tarashae said. "He only stayed in the shallow end."

The girls and another sister of Lunden's, Bryanne Rose, 9, huddled close together and acted out another fond memory: The human pyramid.

They said two of them used to hoist Lunden up high, almost on their shoulders. From there, Lunden would shout "Go Penguins!" which always made them laugh.

Additional Information:

How to help

Lunden Butler Benefit Fund

Donations can be sent to Parkvale Bank, 931 Fifth Ave., New Kensington, PA 15068.

People can also drop off donations in person at the bank from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday.

Helping children cope with trauma

Reassure children that they are safe, limit children's exposure to the news, allow them to mourn, make sure they understands that what happened wasn't their fault.

Signs of emotional overload include regression (returning to earlier behaviors that have been outgrown), nightmares and tantrums or fragile feelings in which the child is quicker than usual to cry.

Source: Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, 1-888-222-4200

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