It was an autumn evening in a small town in South Jersey, where the smells of funnel cake and fried Oreos and the blur of bright lights on spinning rides against an already dark sky were punctuated by the sounds of music, electric generators and the occasional screams of delight.
And then, horribly, it turned deadly.
A young girl aboard a twirling machine of rotating arms and counter-rotating cars known as the “Super Sizzler,” somehow fell — or was ejected — from the ride as it spun.
State Police said the 10-year-old was airlifted from Rosenhayn Fairgrounds in Deerfield to Cooper University hospital in Camden, where she was pronounced dead an hour later at 7:20 p.m. Saturday.
Authorities would not identify the victim, but friends and parents put up tributes to the girl, who they named as a 5th grade Deerfield Elementary School student, on Facebook.
The school will be offering grief counseling Monday, said Alex Ortiz, a fairgoer whose 10-year-old daughter was friends with the victim. The two girls went to school together, were bus buddies and had sleepovers.
“You come thinking the kids will be safe, not a freak accident,” said Ortiz, a Deerfield Township resident of 12 years who attends the festival with her four kids annually.
She had been at the festival Saturday for about 45 minutes before the crowds were escorted out. At the time, she wasn’t aware of the seriousness of the incident, and thought a child just hit her head.
On Sunday afternoon, the scene at the festival was subdued. A true harvest festival in this agricultural region celebrating its 41st year, there were vendors selling items such as honey, soap and wooden bouquets of flowers. Like any carnival, there were hot dogs, lemonade, and deep-fried just about anything.
But there was still an uneasy feeling in the air at Rosenhayn Fairgrounds. The Ferris Wheel, Tilt-a-Whirl and dozens of other rides poked silently into the skyline. Children clustered together at the fair, processing the nightmare that just happened at an event that is an autumnal staple for the community.