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Teenage Lifeguard Killed in Lightning Strike: ‘It Was Like a Bomb’

A teenage lifeguard was killed and at least seven other people were injured in a lightning strike Monday on a New Jersey beach. The lifeguard …

Teenage Lifeguard Killed in Lightning Strike: ‘It Was Like a Bomb’

A teenage lifeguard was killed and at least seven other people were injured in a lightning strike Monday on a New Jersey beach.

The lifeguard, Keith Pinto, 19, of Toms River, N.J., was fatally injured by a lightning strike at White Sands Beach in South Seaside Park around 4:35 p.m., the Berkeley Township Police Department said in a statement. Mr. Pinto died from his injuries on the beach, while the other victims, four of whom were lifeguards, were treated at nearby hospitals, the department said.

Mr. Pinto had been working as a lifeguard for the past four years, according to Debbie Winogracki, communications director for Berkeley Township.

Ms. Winogracki remembered him as a well-liked community member who took his job seriously.

“He was just a nice kid — I call him a kid, but he was a young man,” she said. “He exuded those leadership qualities you want in a person.”

Mr. Pinto was a student at Ocean County College in Toms River, according to his Facebook profile. He was a former track athlete who graduated from Toms River High School North last year, a spokesman for the school district said.

Keith Pinto, 19, had been working as a lifeguard for the past four years, according to a township spokeswoman.

On Tuesday afternoon, a memorial for Mr. Pinto had formed on the beach, with several bouquets and T-shirts draped over a lifeguard stand resting on its side in the sand. People gathered in front of the memorial, crying and hugging each other tightly. A candlelit vigil was scheduled for later in the evening, according to a GoFundMe page to raise money for Mr. Pinto’s family.

Monday had started off beautiful and clear, with no visible signs of storms, according to beachgoers who were there that afternoon. Christine Gailey-Glenn, 51, was sitting on the beach with her husband, her son and her cousin about 200 feet from the lifeguard stand. Ms. Gailey-Glenn’s family had gathered over the weekend to celebrate her sister’s 60th birthday.

Around 4 p.m., the family said, they started seeing dark clouds forming, and one of Ms. Gailey-Glenn’s sisters heard thunder. The family had just started packing their belongings to go back inside when lightning suddenly struck.

“It was like a bomb,” Ms. Gailey-Glenn said. “I felt this excruciating pain in my head, and crackling.”

Ms. Gailey-Glenn said she fell on her knees and lost consciousness for several seconds. When she came to, her husband was shouting for them to leave, she said. Her son, sister and cousin had all been hit by what the police described as residual lightning, the electrical energy that spreads outward from a direct lightning strike.

“I felt the electricity go through my legs like a current,” said Traci Zalinski, 50, Ms. Gailey-Glenn’s cousin.

Ms. Gailey-Glenn’s son had been lying on a blanket when the strike hit and could barely walk afterward, she said. As she and her husband helped their son off the beach, she turned around and saw people screaming and running toward the lifeguard stand, where another lifeguard was performing chest compressions on Mr. Pinto.

Mayor Carmen Amato of Berkeley Township called it a “tragic” and “heartbreaking” day for the Jersey Shore.

“This young person was out there every day protecting the lives of others,” Mr. Amato said in a statement. “Our lifeguard teams, like so many along the shore, develop special connections with our community throughout the summer, which makes this loss even greater.”

Berkeley Township’s beaches will be closed for swimming until Friday, according to the police, but remain open for sunbathers. Crisis counselors are also being provided for the beach’s employees.

Before Monday’s lightning strike, Ms. Gailey-Glenn and Ms. Zalinski said they would have ignored storm warnings on the beach — a decision they said they would never make again.

The cousins still have some lingering anxiety, but they said they were determined to return to the beach on Tuesday to see the lifeguard stand and participate in Mr. Pinto’s memorial.

“That’s where I need to be today,” Ms. Gailey-Glenn said. “Our hearts are just out to Keith’s family, and we’re praying for them.”

Tracey Tully contributed reporting. Susan Campbell Beachy contributed research.

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