Cheerleader's Death a Mystery

A 14-year-old Medford, Mass., cheerleader died shortly after performing a stunt at a gym Tuesday afternoon, and now authorities are trying to learn why, while her family and friends deal with the tragedy.

Ashley Burns was practicing with her teammates at the East Elite Cheer Gym in Tewksbury around 4:30 p.m. when she complained of abdominal pains and was taken to Saints Memorial Hospital in Lowell, where she later died.

Because Burns was a petite girl -- only 4 feet, 9 inches tall and 90 pounds -- she was a "flyer," one of the girls who gets tossed into the air during a routine.

She was practicing an "arabesque double down" stunt with four other teammates just before she started to complain of pains. The routine requires the flyer to be thrown twice up in the air and then be caught on her back in her teammates' arms.

Burns apparently landed on her stomach instead, although she did not land on the ground, her coach said. A short while later, though, she began to complain of abdominal pains and shortness of breath.

"If she impacted her abdominal area, a blunt injury could cause internal bleeding, and I would suspect it may be in that line of injury," Tewksbury Police Chief Richard Mackey said.

Burns was first treated at the East Elite gym and later transported to Saints Memorial Hospital in Lowell. Many of her teammates left the practice believing she was fine because she was alert and talkative when the ambulance arrived.

"She said she thought she had the wind knocked out of her," Medford Police Chief Alfred P. Donovan said. "She was talking, but her condition worsened rapidly."

She died an hour and a half later, however.

"Obviously, our deepest sympathy is with the family right now. We are not going to make a further comment until we get further information, which needs to be available at a later date. The police department is investigating," gym co-owner Linda Bemis said.

An autopsy was planned, authorities said.

"We're being told that absolutely there were no trampolines involved. This was just, somebody landed wrong and sustained an injury," Donovan said.

Burns had cheered and competed for many years. She was on the student council in middle school and was to be an entering freshman at Medford Vocational-Technical High School this fall.

"She died doing something she loved," Burns' step-grandmother, Angela Murphy, told The Boston Globe. "She's a beautiful little girl who will be very missed."

Burns' classmates and friends remembered her today as a happy, bright young girl who was always involved in many school activities. Students and counselors gathered to mourn her today at Medford Vocational-Technical High School.

"I know that Ashley was involved not only in cheerleading, but at her previous school she was also involved in the chorus," Medford High Headmaster Paul Krueger said.

At the high school, the flag was lowered to half-staff and some of her teammates showed up for grief counseling.

"They're obviously finding it very difficult to deal with the loss of Ashley. Fortunately for them, the cheerleaders are a very tight-knit group and the amount of support they will be able to give each other is really immeasurable," Krueger said.

Burns had been one of 12 freshmen selected to join the school's cheerleading team.

"We are deeply saddened by yesterday's tragedy. We were obviously looking forward to having Ashley participate on our cheerleading squad and become part of the Medford High School family," Krueger said.

ABC News affiliate WCVB-TV in Boston contributed to this report.

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