Justin Diggs was an active, social 12-year-old who had to be cajoled to leave the swimming pool and who made the honor roll at Pikesville Middle School.
Justin was killed by a falling tree during a thunderstorm Tuesday at his Carroll County summer camp. His family released a statement late Friday that described him as an good student who enjoyed adventurous sports.
"He loved to swim, play basketball and loved being outside enjoying extreme activities, such as, zip-lining, bungee jumping and anything adventurous," the statement said. "He also loved to draw. Justin was a HAPPY, upbeat, very loving young man with a very BIG heart. He would be a friend to anyone. He attended Pikesville Middle School, Hernwood Elementary School and Happy Acres Preschool. He was an honor student and received several steward awards for being kind and helpful to other students. He brought joy to his mother and grandmother and all who were lucky enough to know him."
Six other children were hospitalized after being injured by falling branches and trees in Tuesday evening's violent thunderstorm at River Valley Ranch in Millers. The other children suffered head injuries, cuts and bruises, though none had injuries that were considered life-threatening.
More than 100 campers ages 7 to 12 from across the Mid-Atlantic were participating in a Bible study at the camp at the time of the storm. Counselors led the campers along a wooded path toward a shelter about 150 yards away, but the children were struck as they walked.
Ranch officials have said they were monitoring the storm, but the winds struck before the campers could be moved to a safe location. A weather service observer recorded wind gusts of 63 mph 4 miles northeast of Millers around the time Justin was killed.
John Zeigenfuse, the camp's program director, said Justin was a "wonderful kid."
"He enjoyed everything that he experienced," Zeigenfuse said. "He was very active so camp was a perfect place for him to run around, play in the pool, go on the zip line, ride horses. He made friends very easily. If I could sum him up in two phrases it would be: He loved to be outside, and he loved people."
Justin was in the second of his three weeks at the camp when he was killed, Zeigenfuse said. He had not attended the camp before that but quickly bonded with other campers, especially his two bunkmates.
"The kids loved him," Zeigenfuse said. "Sometimes 'popular' is turned negative, but I'll just say people liked him and were drawn to him."
Zeigenfuse said the boy was active and excited to participate in various camp activities, including swimming, and he would stay in the pool "until we had to kick him out." The campers were given special phone cards to call home with, but Justin gave his phone minutes to other children, Zeigenfuse said.
"He didn't call home. He said, 'There's other kids who needed my help,'" Zeigenfuse recalled.
The camp — which closed for a few days after Justin's death — has set up a donation page on its website called "Justin's Fund."
"When tragedy strikes, God often sends His biggest help through people," the page states. "It was people who first responded to this tragedy, people who have taken time to soothe the pain through supportive words, and people who will be there in support for the years to come."