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Belmont is shaken by death of girl, 6

1st-grader collapses during soccer game

Flowers were placed on a fence next to the Winn Brook School's soccer field yesterday in memory of Maeve Goulding. Flowers were placed on a fence next to the Winn Brook School's soccer field yesterday in memory of Maeve Goulding. (Dominic Chavez/Globe Staff)

BELMONT - On Saturday morning, about 200 young children scampered about the Winn Brook School's soccer field, waving shyly at their proud parents and ignoring coaches' pleas not to bunch up in the middle of the field.

At one point yesterday the field was empty, except for bouquets of flowers placed on the sideline in mourning for 6-year-old Maeve Goulding, a bright, bubbly first-grader who died Saturday after collapsing on the field during a town league soccer game.

At the Goulding home, where friends and family gathered in mourning, family members said they were devastated.

"I don't know what I'm doing right now," said the girl's father, Michael Goulding, tears in his eyes. He said his daughter would be fondly remembered and dearly missed, waving his hand to show the dozens of visitors who had come to pay respects.

"It's the worst loss a family can have," said Peter Holland, Belmont's school superintendent. "How can this happen? It just seems impossible."

Authorities said the girl received medical treatment from bystanders immediately after falling to the ground at 9:40 a.m. and from paramedics who arrived minutes later. She was later pronounced dead at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.

"They were trying to get her heart rate to stabilize," said Betsy Lipson, the youth soccer league president, who was at the game. "But it was just one of those tragic, rare conditions."

Neighbors who live across from the field said they immediately knew that something terrible had happened. "It was chaos," said a neighbor who asked not to be identified. "You could tell by everybody's faces it was something very serious."

The cause of death was unclear yesterday, but Lipson said the girl's parents had signed a waiver indicating that she was medically cleared to play soccer. Several media outlets reported last night that the girl had a preexisting condition but had been cleared to play.

Belmont Police Department officials declined to list a potential cause of death, but school administrators said they were not aware of any conditions that limited her physical activity. Christine Francis, the principal of Mary Lee Burbank Elementary School, said Goulding loved Irish step dancing and was among the most active children on the playground.

School officials planned a faculty meeting before classes this morning to discuss how to reassure the children. They will have staff counselors on hand to answer their questions. Francis said a child psychologist contacted over the weekend advised that current school counselors would be the best ones to comfort the children.

"The strong recommendation was that familiar faces are best for the kids," she said.

School officials, counselors, and social workers will be available at the district's other three elementary schools because children from throughout the town witnessed the episode, which halted about 20 games at the field.

"A lot of students were very upset," said John Bowe, chairman of the Belmont School Committee. "You see parents with tears in their eyes, that's tough on them."

School officials said they were stunned and deeply saddened by the girl's death, and Francis recalled Maeve as a happy, lovely little girl who had many friends.

"She really had a sparkle in her eye," Francis said, her voice quavering. "She was a very friendly little girl, very sweet. Her teachers, the other children, they loved her."

Heidi Haska, copresident of the Burbank School's parent-teacher association, said families at the school were overcome by shock. "We are reeling," she said. "We just can't understand it."

Lipson said parents with children in the league who work in the mental health field were available yesterday to help other parents address the situation with their children. "As a community, we are so shocked and grieved," she said. "It's such a raw and agonizing event."

A wake has been planned at St. Joseph's Church on Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. A funeral is planned for Thursday at 11 a.m. in the church.

Globe correspondent Franci R. Ellement contributed to this report.

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