6 Die in School District; Officials Look for Links

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 21 May 2002
Time: 13:05:13
Remote Name:


May 20, 2002 Posted: 1:15 PM EDT (1715 GMT)
East Pennsboro High School remembers students who died recently.


ENOLA, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- A Pennsylvania school district is trying to figure out whether the deaths of six students over the last six months may have been related. Three students who died in December and January suffered from life-threatening illnesses, while another three, who died in the last few weeks, apparently were healthy. They attended three schools on a campus in the Enola community near Harrisburg -- four at East Pennsboro High School, one at the middle school, and another at the elementary school. 

Coroners from Dothan and Cumberland counties have indicated the deaths aren't connected, and preliminary tests haven't indicated any environmental cause, said Linda Bigos, superintendent of the 2,800-student East Pennsboro Area School District. But the state Health Department has recommended more testing, and the East Pennsboro Area School District board plans to weigh proposals Monday night from several environmental testing companies. State epidemiologists also began reviewing the medical records this week of the students who died to see if there are any common threads. 

Among the students who died were Tiffanie Salvadia, 16, who had ovarian cancer; Breanna Santiago, 5, a kindergartner with a lung disorder who had a double-lung transplant; and Lee Umbenhauer, 18, who had leukemia. The more recent deaths included Chris Shamansky, 16, who had an enlarged heart; and Jimmy Henry, 16, who had a brain aneurysm. The coroner's office hasn't ruled yet on a cause of death for 13-year-old Jessica Batdorf, a middle school student who collapsed last month while walking to her homeroom. 

Last summer, renovations at the high school turned up asbestos in a tunnel beneath the cafeteria and mold in the band room, which was closed until January while it was cleaned. But those problems were remedied, school officials said. 

High school student Jason Tucker took solace in the preliminary test results. A memorial for Lee Umbenhauer, 18, who died from leukemia. "The coroners have told us nothing points to it being related to one cause, so I'm not that nervous," he said. 

Superintendent Bigos, meanwhile, said she understands why many parents are worried. "The parents have some concerns, as I did and the school board did, and that is why we asked the Department for Environmental Resources to conduct some preliminary tests," she said. "We certainly have been supportive of those parents. Our community has been supportive of them as well." 

Student deaths:
        Jessica Batdorf, 13, cause unknown 
        Chris Shamansky, 16, enlarged heart 
        Jimmy Henry, 16, brain aneurysm 
        Tiffanie Salvadia, 16, ovarian cancer 
        Breanna Santiago, 5, lung disorder 
        Lee Umbenhauer, 18, leukemia 

CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve contributed to this report

Last changed: May 17, 2008