YUBA COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — A Modesto family’s camping trip ended in tragedy when a tree fell on their tent, killing their 13-year-old son.
It was supposed to be a much-needed escape to some peace, quiet and togetherness for the Perez and Nelson family. The COVID-19 pandemic had kept the siblings and cousins apart for months.
So, they set off for the Tahoe National Forest for a quick family getaway last week, setting up tents at the Schoolhouse Campground in Yuba County.
They thought the only things to fear were the bears and wildlife roaming around their campsite at night. But an unexpected threat came from above the next morning.
“It sounded like lightning and just really loud cracking,” said Kelsey Nelson.
A giant tree came thundering down, collapsing on one of their tents with 11 family members sleeping inside.
The heavy trunk landed on 13-year-old Austin Perez, ending his life.
Lying beside him was his little brother, Noah, who suffered a broken leg.
“It’s tough. You just replay it in your mind and you go through everything. And it just, you know, you have no idea,” said Austin’s uncle, Cole Nelson.
Cole jumped out of his sleeping bag when he heard the crash landing but it was too late.
“It just happened, there’s no reconcile of it,” Cole told FOX40. “You can’t figure out why it happened.”
Austin, the eldest brother and cousin in his family, was one day shy of wrapping up his seventh grade year at Mae Hensley Junior High School in Ceres.
His family said he enjoyed making people smile and being a role model to his three younger siblings.
He also shared his uncle’s love of go-kart racing.
“He was just a really good kid, loving and caring,” Cole said between tears. “You run upstairs and you think he’s going to be lying in his bed or we’re at the racetrack and he should be out there. And just all these things we experienced with Austin and he’s just not a part of it anymore, you know.”
Over the weekend, family and friends joined in a memorial ride to celebrate Austin’s short but meaningful life.
The shock of his death was still hard to accept as reality, with his family left wondering if they’ll ever return to camping again.
“It’s going to be hard going trying to go camping again,” Kelsey said.
Austin’s funeral will be held this Wednesday at Lakewood Funeral Home and Memorial Park.