Bouncy castles banned after five children die in freak accident at Australian primary school

Tasmania has announced a ban on bouncy castles at state schools following a freak accident in the town of Devonport that killed five children.

The Education Department said the ban would remain in place until an investigation by police and WorkSafe into how the jumping castle at Hillcrest Primary School became untethered and flew 10 metres into the air.

“The Department of Education has policies and procedures in place in relation to holding a range of activities on school sites. These policies and procedures are reviewed and updated regularly,” the spokesperson said.

“The Department of Education put a hold on the use of jumping castle-style equipment until the results of the investigation are known.”

The father of 12-year-old Zane Mellor, one of the five children killed, said he was “completely lost” without his son.

Police have identified 11-year-old Addison Stewart and Zane’s fellow 12-year-olds Peter Dodt, Jye Sheehan and Jalailah Jayne-Maree Jones as the other victims.

Three more children are in hospital in critical condition, having been knocked from the inflatable castle when it was 10 metres in the air. Another student was discharged overnight and is now recovering at home.

“To Zane’s dad Tim [Mellor], his children are his whole world and he is completely lost without him,” Zane’s stepmother Denitta Ryder told the Daily Mail.

She said Zane was a “gentle” boy whose younger siblings “all absolutely adored him”.

Ryder has set up a GoFundMe page to support Tim Mellor. It has raised A$5000 so far.

On Thursday night, Tim Mellor posted a photo of himself with Zane on social media.

“I’m going to miss you, mate,” he wrote.

A separate fundraising page set up to help Zane’s mother, Georgie Gardam, has raised A$50,000 ($52.900).

“We would like to help raise some funds to assist [Zane’s mum] and her family in this hard time after the tragic loss of her gorgeous boy Zane who was one of those tragically lost in today’s incident at Hillcrest primary in Devonport, Tasmania,” the page reads.

“Georgie is an amazing mum to her three boys, always putting their needs first. Zane was such a beautiful, caring, gentle soul who had challenges growing up with his autism and adhd [sic] but that never set him back he kept achieving and Georgie is the most amazing mum, she never gave up and was by his side every step of the way encouraging, loving and fighting for him.

“This has shook so many people and the community and we want to do anything to help make things a little easier for her at this hard time.”

The victims of the freak accident were Grade 5 and 6 students celebrating the end of the school year when it happened.

The mother of a boy whose class was next in line for the jumping castle before the freak accident said she felt both relieved and guilty.

“We all feel so heartbroken for the parents involved, and feel guilty that we are also relieved our children were not injured,” the woman, named Tanya, told the Hobart Mercury.

“The school had a jumping castle for school break-up last year as well. You wouldn’t dream a fun activity day would end like this.”

Her 9-year-old son said “it was our turn next”.

Peter Dodt’s shattered aunt, Tamara Scott, has set up a GoFundMe to support Peter’s father, Andrew, raising more than A$1600.

“Hi I’m Tamara, on Thursday the 16 of December 2021 my brother Andrew lost his son Peter due to an incident at school in Devonport, Tasmania,” Scott wrote.

“Peter was a young 12-year-old boy who was full of life and adventures.”

Scott told the Daily Mail that her brother was “beyond shattered” and that he had broken down while collecting his son’s school bag on Friday.

“He went to the school this morning to collect his school bag – he felt he had to do that, and he just cuddled it and cried,” Scott told the publication.

“He’s unrepairable. It was him and his dad against the world.”

Another fundraiser was set up for Addison. Her aunt Meghan Aherne wrote: “My niece was tragically taken in the accident at Hillcrest Primary. I’m hoping to raise some money for my brother and sister in-law to help pay for funeral costs and to pay off some bills for them while they try and navigate life without their precious daughter.

“They have another daughter and son to take care of and I’m hoping to alleviate some of the stress of bills.

“Everyone is devastated, she was always such a sweet kind, old soul.”

Another GoFundMe fundraiser has surpassed A$1 million as Australians rally around the Devonport community.

That fundraiser was organised by local teen Zoe Smith, who told news.com.au that at first, she aimed to raise just $1000.

The 18-year-old said she was astonished to see donations pour in from across the nation, with one single donation of A$30,000 leaving her stunned.

“This is a tragic event and although we’ve raised so much money, no amount will replace what these families have lost,” she said.

“It’s just horrible and I hope it will alleviate some of the burden of different costs … and help them to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I hope they know their community is behind them, the whole of Tasmania and Australia is rallying behind them.”

Smith said she had been “running on adrenaline” since launching the fundraiser and that she was now going through logistics with a lawyer given the overwhelming amount of cash donated.

She said it would be distributed to the affected families, with excess money going to the school to help surviving kids get the support they need.

She said while she didn’t personally know the families of the victims, the impact of the tragedy on the “close-knit” town would be felt for many years.

“Not many names have been released yet but I’m sure it will come out in the weeks ahead that I know a friend of a friend. It’s horrible, the whole community has been really shocked and shaken,” she said.

“It’s quite a small, close-knit town but the support that has been shown proves everyone is rallying around because they know what a big impact it will have on the people of Devonport.

“It has affected the whole community.”

Bob Smith, who lives nearby, told the ABC he saw the jumping castle “go up”.

“We knew there was something really wrong,” he said. “My wife heard a bang. It was pretty traumatic.

“[We’re] a bit shaken. You don’t expect anything like that,” he said. “The poor parents, I don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Tasmanian Police Commissioner Darren Hine said the children were supposed to be having a happy last day of the school year when tragedy struck.

“On a day when these children were meant to be celebrating their last day of primary school, instead we’re all mourning their loss,” he said.

“Our hearts are breaking for the families and the loved ones, schoolmates, teachers of these young people who were taken too soon.

“Our thoughts are also with those emergency service personnel who attend to try and save these people’s lives.”

Tasmania Premier Peter Gutwein said the tragedy was “devastating and heartbreaking”.

“It’s difficult for me to find the right words,” he said. “On a day when schoolchildren were celebrating at the end of school term so close to Christmas, it is simply inconceivable that this shocking incident has occurred.

“I know that this is a strong and caring community that will stand together and support one another.

“I know that I speak for all Tasmanians when I say that we will stand with this community.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the accident was “unthinkably heartbreaking”.

“Young children on a fun day out … and it turns to such horrific tragedy. At this time of the year, it just breaks your heart,” he said.

Devonport Mayor Annette Rockliff told Channel 10 she had been at the school and met with the Grade 6 students last week.

“To be honest, we’re all still in shock, struggling to come to terms with the accident. We’re trying to take care of each other but struggling to get our head around it,” she told The Project.

“I met all those children last week, I was in their classroom for an hour or so, so it’s pretty tough to think about that.

“I understand there were at least 70 ambulance workers on site. They’re all members of our community. Many of them have children.”

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