Amherst community mourns death of ARHS junior

  • Anna Burns, 12, of Amherst and eight fellow Junior Ski Patrollers head out on the trails for a radio training at Notchview in Windsor, Jan. 27, 2019. A high school junior this year, Burns died after collapsing last week at a cross country meet. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/19/2022 8:45:54 PM

AMHERST — Family, friends and students at Amherst Regional High School are mourning the death of a junior who had been hospitalized since suffering an apparent cardiac issue during a Sept. 13 cross country meet.

On Sunday, a message was sent to students, families and the district’s faculty and staff informing them of the death of Anna Burns, 16, a member of the Class of 2024.

“It is with great sadness that I share the news that Anna has passed away,” Superintendent Michael Morris wrote. “They were a part of the Crocker Farm family since they first started school, attended Middle School at ARMS, and were currently a member of the junior Class of 2024 at ARHS.”

Attached to the letter from Morris was an email from Burns’ family, parents Sarah Goff and Stephen Burns and younger brother Ian Burns, thanking the community for an outpouring of love and support since the medical episode, and inviting those who knew Anna Burns to visit a memorial page to offer reflections at https://everloved.com/life-of/anna-burns/.

“We know many folks know Anna as your student, your classmate, teammate, friend, and we are counting on the love and support of the ARPS community to help all of us get through this unimaginable loss,” the family wrote.

The family’s letter elaborates on the circumstances of the incident that claimed Burns’ life. Burns identified as nonbinary and used the pronoun “they.”

“Anna Burns’s heart stopped beating suddenly at the end of their cross country meet last Tuesday in Ludlow. We still don’t know why. We understand that people on site and the EMTs tried so hard to revive Anna and they did get their heart to beat again. Unfortunately, their brain was without oxygen too long and they never regained consciousness.”

“Typical of Anna, they wanted to donate their organs if anything like this happened,” the letter continues. “Transplant patients have been found and we are grateful that other people will benefit from this awful loss.”

On the memorial page, an obituary describes the sports teams on which Burns participated, including cross country skiing, ultimate and cross country, places where Burns was at home, like the Morse Hill Outdoor Education Center in Shutesbury, and an interest in education, as well as fighting climate change as a leader of the local Sunrise Movement:

“Their athletic teams have been incredibly supportive communities and outlets for competition and friendship. Nordic and Ultimate are longtime loves and ARXC a new one. These were spaces where Anna could dream big, or not, and thrive with the support and encouragement of coaches and teammates. Anna also loved learning. They challenged themselves with a hefty dose of math and science classes (Chemistry! Calculus! AP Bio!) and loved poetry and literature as well.”

At Burns’ bedside, the obituary notes several books being read, including “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan, “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson, and “Principles of Biostatistics.”

Jim Pistrang, who was the ultimate coach for Burns in sixth and seventh grades, said the news of the death was heartbreaking, calling Burns a teammate’s dream.

“Anna was an intense and passionate player who combined a desire to win with caring for everybody,” Pistrang said. “A model ultimate player, in many regards.”

“Anna was really an incredible kid and a treasured member of the community,” Pistrang said.

“Many hearts are pained with the news of the sudden death of Anna Burns,” said Dan Kaplan, who coached Burns’ ultimate team for one season.

“They were a tenacious athlete who played with joy and skill and determination,” Kaplan said. “They also had a deeply held conviction toward fairness, justice and personal responsibility that was inspiring to everyone on our team.”

Morris wrote that he was privileged to share the family’s letter and did so with “our most heartfelt sympathy.” He noted the school would have its own counselors available to staff and students in all schools throughout the district, and additional counselors from Riverside Trauma Center were to be at the high school on Monday.

Details of a memorial service were still being organized.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.
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