A 16-year-old West Chester boy who fell 1,000 feet to his death in a Mexican mine shaft last week was on a humanitarian mission, his family said yesterday.
Relatives of Taylor Crane, who was about to enter his senior year at West Chester Henderson High School, said news reports that Taylor tried to jump over the 10-foot-wide shaft of the Cinco Senores mine in Guanajuato, a central Mexico state, were misleading.
Christopher Crane, the boy's father, said his son died while playing a game of tag with a group of Mexican children that the boy's community service group had traveled to help.
"Obviously, we're devastated by this loss, and it's difficult to imagine life without our son," he said, his voice cracking. "But we're so proud of Taylor and what he was doing down here."
Christopher Crane said a group of American teens were spending the week working with about 80 Mexican children ages 5 to 10. Taylor was being chased by five or six of the children when he jumped onto a thigh-high wall, not realizing it abutted an abandoned mine shaft, his father said.
"As he lost his balance and apparently realized his predicament, he tried to jump to a tree that was growing out of the other side of the wall," his father said. "He never made it."
The Associated Press reported only that witnesses told police that Crane tried to jump over the 10-foot-wide shaft.
The recovery effort has been complicated by the mine's being flooded with water that "has a lot of arsenic and lead, and that makes it hard to breathe down there," said Jose Felix Velazquez, a spokesman for police in San Luis de la Paz, where the mine is located.
Christopher Crane said he and his wife, Sue Patterson, are keeping a vigil until the body is recovered. He said they have been overwhelmed by the recovery effort and the generosity of the community and government, adding that hundreds of people were involved.
"It reminded me so much of the massive effort with the Pennsylvania miners," he said, referring to the efforts to rescue nine men trapped in the Quecreek Mine five years ago this month. "I think any American would be impressed by how much the life of one person means in Mexico."
During their vigil, Christopher Crane said they have heard stories about their son's influence in Mexico from his peers.
"They told us how Taylor was deeply loved by the children, how little Juan would run onto the bus every day so that he could sit on Taylor's lap," he said.
Marc Bertrondo, principal at West Chester Henderson, said Taylor was "the type of student that all principals and teachers want to have." He said Taylor, whom he described as well-liked by everyone, excelled academically and participated in track and field and was a member of the Ski Club.
"He did everything well," he said.
Christopher Crane said his son had been moved ahead in school at one point because of his ability, which is why he was only 16 going into senior year.
Tracy Fedak, chairman of the Pumpkin Festival at Hillsdale Elementary School, which Taylor and his brother attended, credited the Cranes with making one of the school's annual fund-raisers a huge success.
She said that for several years, the family grew and donated the pumpkins sold by the school. More recently, they bought cartloads of pumpkins in Lancaster County and gave them to the school to sell, she said. Last year marked the end of the family's contribution, Fedak said, because the Cranes wanted to focus their resources on disadvantaged schools.
"I was disappointed, but it was impossible to argue with their reason," she said.
Bertrondo said his heart went out to the family, which includes Taylor's brother, Colin, 18, who graduated in 2006. The principal said the family was known for its many civic contributions.
Florence Miller, a spokeswoman for the West Chester Area School District, said the district would make counselors available to students from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. tomorrow and Thursday.
On his Myspace page, Crane used the name Aureliano Beundia, a character from A Hundred Years of Solitude by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Among those he wanted to meet: Jesus, Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, George Orwell, Da Vinci and God.
He described himself as someone who loved life and music, hoped to have children someday, and longed for a world in which people would be nicer to each other.
"I play ukulele, piano, guitar, and anything else you give me," he wrote. "I think so much that I often have opposing views on the same subject."
Bertrondo said he did not believe the full brunt of the tragedy would be felt for several weeks.
"The real impact of this will occur when kids come back to school and their buddy's not there," he said.
Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-701-7625 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This article contains information from the Associated Press.