Memories of a Jewish summer camp counselor who was killed when a tree fell at Camp Tawonga near Yosemite National Park have been pouring in on an online tribute page in the nearly two weeks since her death.
Annais Rittenberg, 21, an art counselor at the camp and University of California at Santa Cruz student, was killed when a tree fell outside the camp’s dining hall on July 3.
Rittenberg, about to enter her senior year at UCSC, was an environmental studies major and worked at the KZSC campus radio station.
She listed on her Facebook page that she is from New York and attended Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School there.
The fatal accident occurred around 8:30 a.m. at Camp Tawonga, which is located at 31201 Mather Road in Tuolumne County outside of Yosemite.
The young campers were inside the nearby dining hall having breakfast when the incident occurred, camp officials Jamie Simon and Ken Kramarz said in an email sent to parents on July 4.
The camp staff decided to not inform the campers, whose session was ending later that week, about the death until they had returned home.
According to the letter, campers that asked about the incident were told that there was an accident and that a few staff members were injured.
“We concluded that you, their parents, have the right to determine what to share about the incident based on your own assessment of how your child is doing and in accordance with your personal beliefs about death,” the letter read.
Rittenberg’s father, Mark, took issue with how the camp handled the situation and wrote on the camp’s Facebook page that prayers and a service at camp should have been openly focused on Rittenberg.
“Everyone needs to know and everyone needs to embrace it,” he wrote days after the death.
Since then, the camp set up a memorial page and posted photographs of Rittenberg.
In the incident, four other adult staff members were taken to area hospitals with injuries. More than a dozen others were also hurt, but were not hospitalized.
In the days after the accident, two of the injured female counselors had already been released and returned to the camp. The two others were still recovering.
Staff said the campers were safely led away from the fallen tree immediately as alarms were sounded when the tree hit power lines.
Campers did see 10 emergency vehicles and two helicopters enter the property, but they did not see any of the rescue operations, staff said.
Therapists were on hand to help with the campers, whom staffers described as overall “engaged, happy and enjoying camp.”
Now back home, campers are writing about Rittenberg on a Facebook page remembering the counselor.
One camper, Griffin Epstein, wrote via his dad’s Facebook account on Saturday, “Annais helped me make this awesome candle during Session 2 earlier this summer, and we lit it tonight in her memory. She is a great art counselor and a fun person to be around. She has a positive spirit.”
Nine-year-old Zoe Malkin wrote through her parent’s account, “She was my favorite counselor.”
As to the safety of the camp and trees on the premises, camp officials said an independent certified arborists re-inspected the oak trees last week.
The oak tree that fell had been inspected before summer programming started with PG&E officials, camp staff said.
It appears the tree spontaneously fell, staff said about an investigation into the incident.
For those interested in sharing a story about Rittenberg the camp encourages parents to send memories to email@example.com.
Cards and other tokens for the Rittenberg family and for any of the injured staff members can be sent to the camp’s San Francisco offices at 131 Steuart St., Suite 460, San Francisco, CA, 94105.
Sasha Lekach, Bay City News