TEWKSBURY, Mass. – An autopsy will be done to determine how a 14-year-old girl died after performing a routine stunt at a cheerleading camp.
Ashley Burns, an incoming freshman at Medford Vocational-Technical High School (search), was practicing with her teammates Tuesday afternoon at the East Elite Cheer Gym when four other girls tossed her into the air.
She landed chest-first in the arms of her friends, police said. Soon afterward, she complained of abdominal pain and shortness of breath.
"She said she thought she had the wind knocked out of her," Tewksbury Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan said. "She was talking, but her condition worsened rapidly."
Paramedics took her to Saints Memorial Hospital (search) in Lowell, where she was pronounced dead around 6 p.m.
Authorities said Burns' death appears to be accidental. A spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office said there would be an autopsy but it would be up to the family to decide whether the results are made public.
James Deveney, principal of the middle school Burns attended until June, said she missed part of the last school year with a stomach-related illness.
A neighbor who was acting as a spokeswoman for the family said Ashley had her appendix removed in the spring.
"Other than that, she'd just had a physical last week and was fine," Linda Michaud said.
Burns was one of 12 freshmen who made the cheerleading team at Medford High School (search), which shares sports with Medford Voc-Tech. She was at the camp this week with her teammates, preparing for the upcoming season.
The girls were practicing a sophisticated but routine stunt called an arabesque double down (search), in which they held Burns by one foot and tossed her into the air. She was supposed to make two full twirls before landing on her back in the arms of her teammates. But Burns did not make the full rotation and landed instead on her stomach, said her coach, Julie Brown.
Linda Bernis, co-owner of the East Elite gym, declined to comment pending the outcome of the investigation.
"Our sympathy is with the family right now," she said.
Burns' step-grandmother, Angela Murphy, attended Tuesday's practice and rode with her in the ambulance.
"She died doing something she loved," she told The Boston Globe. "She's a beautiful little girl who will be very missed."