Elijah James Knight, left, died when a tree fell on him at a Covington camp run by the Boy Scouts of America.
Photo: Courtesy of the Knight family
Photo: Courtesy of the Knight family

Family suing Atlanta Boy Scouts speaks about son killed by tree

A cellphone alarm blares at 1:21 p.m. every day for Courtney and Stephen Knight. It’s not a reminder, more of a ritual.

The time refers to Jan. 21, the birthday of their son, Elijah James Knight. They take a moment to remember their 14-year-old tinkerer and alto saxophonist. The family began the ritual in late June, soon after Elijah was killed by a falling tree during a storm at a Boy Scouts camp in Covington.

The family, which lives in suburban Houston, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday in State Court in Cobb County, which is where the Atlanta Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America has its headquarters.

The 1,300-acre Bert Adams Scout Camp, which is run by the Council, was hosting about 100 Boy Scouts from Texas, including Knight and his younger brother last summer.

Elijah’s brother was instructed by a staff member to go inside a structure during the storm, but Elijah was never told so and died in his tent. The lawsuit claims this alleged disparity is evidence of negligence.

“This is a very difficult time for our Scouting family. We offer our deepest condolences to the victim and his family, and we will support them in any way we can,” the  Council said in a statement Tuesday. “The safety of our Scouts is our number one priority. Please join us in keeping those affected by the tragic accident during last summer’s severe storms in our thoughts and prayers.”

READ | Teen’s death not first at local Boy Scout campground

The lawsuit claims the adults on the trip did not follow the group’s own bylaws about seeking shelter during inclement weather. According to the suit, the National Weather Service warned that the area could be in for 60-mph winds and quarter-sized hail about a half hour before Elijah died.

The family is asking for a jury trial and damages to be paid but doesn’t request a specific amount.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” Elijah’s father Stephen Knight told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “What we would like is systemic safety improvements to be implemented so no other parent has to endure this suffering.”

Elijah was on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, like his father. Stephen Knight cherishes camping trips and 50-mile hikes during his time in the organization.

“Scouting can and should be adventurous without being life-threatening,” the father said.

READHarrison High remembers Cobb teen killed by tree in camping accident

Elijah’s brother, who is 16 months younger, wasn’t with Elijah when the storm really hit because he was earning a merit badge the older boy didn’t need.

He is no longer in the Scouts and is shaken, like his younger sister, from the loss. The Knights said he wonders if Elijah will recognize him when he grows old and goes to heaven. 

“Our focus is on getting them up and out of bed every day and getting them through school without falling apart,” said Courtney Knight.

The daily minutia of parenting their surviving children can be its own struggle.

READFamily of boy who drowned at camp files wrongful death lawsuit

“We also have two younger children who expect our attention and interest and we go from screaming into a pillow in the closet to coming out with a smile on our face to play a board game,” Courtney Knight said. “And this is daily life and will be as far into the future as we imagine.”

The family was encouraged by the 900 or so people who showed up soon after the tragedy to a service remembering Elijah, who had been pondering what he’d do for his Eagle Scout service project. Courtney Knight remembers sitting with her boy who was struggling to pick a cause.

Suddenly, she said, Elijah spouted some self-aware wisdom that has become a guiding principle for the family: “Start everything with kindness and the end will be OK.”

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The incident happened as severe storms moved through the area at Bert Adams Scout Camp.

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