AVON PARK, Fla. — A 13-year-old middle school student was hit and killed by a train Monday afternoon in Highlands County, authorities said.
The teen attended Avon Park Middle School, which is a short distance from the railroad crossing where the student was struck by the train on West Bell Street and South Feagin Avenue, the sheriff's office said in a Facebook post.
Law enforcement said they were alerted of the incident at 3:31 p.m., which was 11 minutes after the school's bell rings to dismiss students from campus.
The 13-year-old was reportedly pronounced dead at the scene.
The Amtrak passenger train was heading north at the time when it struck the student, who authorities have identified as seventh-grader Malik Pearson.
“There are no words that can capture how devastating this is to our community and schools," Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman and Superintendent Brenda Longshore said in a joint statement. "Our prayers are with Malik’s family and friends and we will make counselors, victim advocates, therapy dogs and any other help available to anyone who has been directly impacted by this tragedy."
Those living near the train tracks expressed concern for kids' safety. John Sedlock, who lives right next to the train tracks, said about 12 trains pass by every day. He sees kids walking across the tracks and believes there should be supervision for the children as they cross.
"Twenty minutes a day of somebody’s time, that child is alive, period. End of story," Sedlock stated.
A mother whose daughter went to Avon Park Middle School with Malik agreed there needs to be safe supervision for kids as they walk home from school.
"We can do better," Kelly Marshall said. "Get crossing guards, police officers, different routes for kids to walk. Something different because it’s just so sad."
10 Tampa Bay checked Department of Transportation crash reports at the crossing. Since 1975, there have been at least four other crashes at this location. All involved cars with no reported injuries.
10 Tampa Bay reached out to Amtrak for a statement and we are waiting for their response.
County school board officials say local pastors and district counselors were at the scene shortly after Pearson was killed to provide support. There will be counseling resources Tuesday morning for students and staff at Avon Park Middle School.
The sheriff's office says they are still working to determine how the incident occurred. That will include interviewing kids who witnessed it and looking into if Malik was wearing earbuds or not.
The investigation is ongoing at this time.