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12-year-old New Jersey boy collapses, dies during football practice

By Sarah May on
 February 20, 2023

In yet another tragic instance of unexplained sudden death in a young, seemingly healthy athlete, 12-year-old Elijah Jordan Brown-Garcia of New Jersey passed away after collapsing during a youth football practice, as NBC News reports.

The tragedy occurred on Feb. 10 while Brown-Garcia was running no-contact drills as part of the Essex County Predators league.

Sudden death prompts questions

Brown-Garcia was a sixth grader at the KIPP Rise Academy in Newark, and he suffered a sudden, unexplained on-field collapse while participating in football practice along with his 10-year-old brother.

According to Elijah's mother, Raven Brown, it was her younger son who phoned her to let her know that something terrible had occurred and that his brother was not responding after the collapse.”

“I said, 'What are they doing? What is anybody doing?' And he said, 'They are pouring water on him, and they are fanning him.' And that's when I got my kids together and I said, 'I'm on my way,'” Brown recalled.

News 12 in nearby western Connecticut further noted that the boy had no prior known health conditions, making his death that much more mysterious to his loved ones.

Delayed emergency response

Sadly, emergency responders did not reach the scene promptly, with Brown revealing that adults on site at the practice had called twice for an ambulance and that she had to place a third call herself.

“I beat the ambulance there,” the grieving mother said. “Like 30-40 minutes. It took them a long time.”

Once an ambulance did finally arrive, Brown-Garcia was transported to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead.

The family was said to be awaiting autopsy results, but Brown has already pointed to a number of errors that may have contributed to her son's tragic outcome.

Absence of CPR to blame?

As she grapples with the sudden loss of her young son, Brown continues to wonder whether CPR would have saved her child had the adults supervising football practice that fateful day been able to administer it.

“When the coach called me... [he said], 'Sorry, none of us are CPR-certified,” lamented Brown, and though her son's coach vowed to seek CPR certification for team staff, the wider league of which the Predators are a part did not respond to press inquiries about the issue.

Decrying the lack of safety protocols observed by her son's team – including the absence of a defibrillator device – Brown added, “They are neglectful. You can't run a team like that.”

News 12 noted that while schools in New Jersey are legally required to keep defibrillators on hand at all sports practices and events and to have at least one CPR-trained individual present, a 2015 law that would have extended the same rules to youth athletics occurring outside of school settings was vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie.

Family, friends left to mourn

Though Brown-Garcia's family is said to be contemplating legal action, for the time being, their focus is on honoring the youngster – who was described by school representatives as a “kind, outgoing student” – lost far too soon.

“He enjoyed playing football. He enjoyed dancing. He was a big brother to his siblings,” recalled Zeneida Garcia, the boy's aunt.

“He was so happy to be there. He didn't know that it was going to be his last day,” said Brown, underscoring the profoundly tragic nature of the young boy's untimely demise.

Mourning her son, the grieving mother added, “I miss his face. I miss him dancing...I just miss him. I miss everything about him.”