Mother of boy injured in Las Cruces lightning strike talks to ABC-7

In related news: 13-year-old critically injured by lightning strike now breathing on his own, off life support

Exclusive interviews with lightning strike victims.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - Aug. 20 Update: Hunter Keffer is breathing on his own and no longer on life support, according to a Las Cruces Public Schools official who gave ABC-7 the update on the 13-year-old's condition.

Hunter was transported to University Medical Center of El Paso Tuesday night in critical condition after being injured by a lightning strike on a football field in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Hunter, four other boys, and one adult coach were all injured in the lightning strike.

ABC-7 on Wednesday afternoon spoke with the mothers of two of the boys at El Paso Children's Hospital.

Zeke Gama and Demetrius Aguilera, both 13 years old, are listed in stable condition.

Both said other than a headache, they are doing well and remain in the hospital just for observation purposes.

Demetrius said the three boys, all defensive players, have played football together for the past four years.

Neither boy could recall the exact moment when the lightning struck, which apparently knocked them out.

But Zeke, who is a strong safety on the Picacho Middle School team, said when he came to he saw Hunter, who is a cornerback, laying on the ground motionless.

When it's dark, gray and gloomy, thundering skies are telling us lightning will follow. But that's not what Picacho Middle's football defensive coordinator Arnie Castanada and his 40 players saw Tuesday afternoon.

"Like I said, it was real calm, felt sprinkles, and it just hit us," said Arnie Castanada, defensive coordinator at Picacho Middle.

"All I remember was a loud noise," said 13-year-old football player Demetrius Aguilera.

"My helmet was kind of thrown off and people were running," said teammate Zeke Gama.

"People were panicking, running everywhere. They just took off to the locker room. It was a very chaotic scene.somebody yelled "Somebody's hurt bad. Call 911," said Chris Herrera, a parent on the field.

Herrera gave CPR to Hunter Keffer.The mom's of Demetrius Aguilera and Zeke Gama were called.

"I think I just kind of freaked out," said Zeke's mom Isabel Gonzalez. "I think as a parent, if you get a call like that, you don't expect to hear that he got hit by lightning. I was shocked at first."

Castanada in still in the hospital for observation.He says he was moving kids off the field when the lightning struck, which is what he's trained to do. But Las Cruces Public Schools does not have an official safety policy to follow.

"They do have a lightning detector at middle schools, but usually it's used during actual games," said Jo Galvan LCPS spokesperson.

Whether it's games or practices, most school districts in El Paso follow University Interscholastic League policies. UIL mandate all athletic officials or trainers postpone any activity if a thunderstorm appears imminent for at least 30 minutes. UIL states when thunder is heard within 30 seconds of a visible lightning strike, or a cloud-to-ground lightning bolt is seen, the thunderstorm is close enough to strike your location with lightning. If there's no lightning or thunder, imminent signs are darkening clouds and high winds. That's when it's time to get off the field and seek shelter.

"It's my understanding that it just started raining, it was raining pretty hard, and they all started running toward the gym and that's when the lightning struck," Gonzalez said.

"His helmet was thrown off, and my helmet was barely hanging on to my head," Gama said.

To avoid sudden strikes, the El Paso Independent School District tells its coaches to use the "Flash to Bang" counting method, alongside a Skyscan device to measure how close lightning is getting. But now with three people in the hospital and one in critical condition, Picacho Middle and LCPS is admitting, more needed to be done.

"I think that's why we need to meet today with our superintendent and all of the people who talk about policy, review our protocols, and it has to range not just from actual games and competition, but all the way down to recess," Galvan said.

Aug. 19 Story: A Las Cruces boy is in critical condition after he was injured by a lightning strike during football practice Tuesday afternoon.

Police say six people were injured - five children and one coach - when lightning struck the field of Picacho Middle school off Motel Boulevard near Highway 70.

Hunter Keffer, 13, was taken to  the trauma center University Medical Center in El Paso after initially being taken to Mountain View Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces. He is in critical condition.

Teachers told ABC-7 Tuesday night that Hunter did not have a pulse during the ambulance ride to Las Cruces.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, a coach and about 40 football players were practicing at Picacho Middle School with it just sprinkling a little when the lightning strike hit.

"Apparently, from what a couple coaches told me, they had already made their decision to head back in because it was sprinkling and immediately all of a sudden there's a flash of lightning," said Las Cruces Public School Communications Director Jo Galvan.

"I had seen the flash, like not even a couple seconds later," said 8th grade football player Emiliano Frano. "It smelled like burning plastic. It was gross. I never smelled anything like that."

Galvan said lighting hit tall trees in the back of the field, it became grounded, then spread through the field as the coach and players were walking toward the gym, making them fall.

"There were people panicking, crying, you know, people not knowing who got hit," Franco said.

LCPS said the team's coach and three 13-year-old players have minor injuries from the lightning strike.

"One of them was traumatized by the noise," Franco said. "His name was Zeke. "He couldn't hear anything because he was just sitting there. He was able to hear things at first... ."

Hunter received the worst injuries and Franco said Hunter was not breathing on the field after the lightning strike.

"One of the parents was the one who actually did CPR on the kid," said Picacho music teacher Emmanuel Hernandez. "If it wasn't for him it would be a different story."

"The CPR that he received on the field was what kept him long enough for the paramedics to resuscitate him and stabilize him," Picacho Middle language arts teacher Dawson Yarbrough said.

For now, athletic activities have been canceled and Picacho officials are determining their next steps, including providing counseling for students who need to talk about what they saw.

Franco said he feels traumatized because he's never seen anything like that.

"It's very unusual," Galvan said. "I can't remember in my 25 years with the school district this ever happening."

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