The Fort Atkinson community had heavy hearts on Thursday after learning of the passing of 13-year-old student Danny Rees, who died unexpectedly.
“Our precious 13-year-old Danny was taken from us suddenly and unexpectedly yesterday on Sept. 14. He had been congested for two days with what seemed like a cold,” said Tammy Rees, his mother, on a GoFundMe site. “While resting at home, he stopped breathing. We are beside ourselves with loss.”
Early Thursday, Rees had posted on the site that the family had tested positive for COVID-19.
An autopsy was performed Thursday morning, and the county’s medical examiner said whether the death was related to COVID-19 will not be known for weeks. She also urged the public to not jump to conclusions on cause of death.
As of Thursday afternoon, the GoFundMe site had raised $20,391 of the $30,000 goal.
Danny, a seventh-grader in the district, died on Tuesday.
“We want to acknowledge that our hearts are heavy for the loss of one of our students,” read the district’s official communication, shared with families Thursday.
“We extend heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, staff and members of our community,” said Marissa Weidenfeller, communications specialist for the district. “As a district, our focus remains on continuing to support students, staff, and families now and in the days ahead.”
Fort Atkinson Middle School families received the news Wednesday afternoon.
Due to federal privacy requirements and out of respect for the family, the school district could not release any additional information.
“This news is never easy to share or receive,” Weidenfeller said. “However, I am glad that we were all together to support and comfort each other in this difficult time.”
“Our amazing pupil services team and additional grief counselors were available to support children and staff as needs arose throughout the day, and we will continue to use our pupil support staff in this capacity in the days ahead,” the official message to families read.
At this time, Weidenfeller said, district officials have not learned how the middle-schooler died, and there is a chance that the local schools might not ever know.
“We ask that people refrain from making assumptions or guesses, as these can be hard for family and friends who are already feeling saddened by the news of his death,” the official message said.
“As we navigate this tragic event, it’s important for everyone involved to remember who Danny was as a person and keep his family and friends in our thoughts, the school district’s communication said.
“Our focus needs to remain on how we can all support and take care of each other,” the message continued.
District officials said that local families should not hesitate to reach out to the middle school if there is anything that the district could do to support them and their children through this tragic time.
The official cause of death, said Jefferson County Medical Examiner Nichol Tesch, is pending further study from the pathologist in Milwaukee County and so the death cannot yet be confirmed as COVID-related or not.
“Eight to 13 weeks is the typical timeframe for getting (pathology) reports back into my hands for me to review them,” Tesch stated. “Most cases, however, don’t get back for two to three months.”
She told the Rees family that Danny’s death could not conclusively be ruled COVID-related at this time.
“We have to wait for the studies to come back and see if there were any underlying (medical) conditions,” Tesch said.
She urged the public to not make any hasty assumptions per cause of death until those further pathology reports come back.
“Because they (reports) will help us make that accurate determination of actual cause of death,” Tesch said. “There might be underlying co-morbidities or undiagnosed medical conditions that might play a role. That’s why we do the testing to make these determinations accurately. I say that on every single case.”
COVID cases continue to climb in Jefferson County and across the state. The seven-day average for cases in the county are 28 per 100,000. And, there have been 342 new cases per 100,000 in the last two weeks.
In the month of August there were 409 cases. September is on pace to have the highest amount of cases in the county since January.
Fort Atkinson has nearly twice the number of COVID cases of any other community in the county.
Earlier this month, the School District of Fort Atkinson Board of Education took no action on a mask mandate, thus making the wearing of masks by students and staff in all district buildings optional for the start of this school year.