We do not know why Chelsea Collins died.
We do not know how long it will take for test results to come back from the notoriously backlogged Georgia Bureau of Investigation lab.
But we do know that in the time lag between Chelsea's tragic death Monday, and the date the test results are returned, a vacuum of information will beg to be filled with rumor and speculation.
None of that is productive. And none of it is fair to Chelsea, to her family or to her many friends at Lakeside High School.
Sadly, perhaps the worst of the speculation has come from a few opponents of the Columbia County school system's early August start dates. One of them, in a hasty letter fired off Tuesday to state school Superintendent Kathy Cox, flatly said Chelsea's death was heat-related. A handful of others have sent hot-tempered messages to the Columbia County school board, all but accusing the school system of causing Chelsea's death by starting school earlier.
This isn't just ill-advised; it's hysterical. Columbia County Assistant Coroner Vernon Collins - no relation to Chelsea - says there aren't yet any indications that her death was heat-related at all. Yet because Chelsea was outside when she took ill, and because it was hot, some people have jumped to the conclusion that the heat caused her death.
As a result, some in the community have criticized school officials for not suspending all outdoor activities. What is the message such alarmism sends - that children should stay indoors? A recent study said childhood obesity is growing at such an alarming rate in part because children don't go outside and play often enough. Would we have our kids turn fat and lazy because of irrational fear of warm weather?
Besides: As long as Columbia County has had sports, baseball leagues and similar activities have flourished even during the hottest weeks of summer. Should we cancel those activities, too?
The Columbia County school system has a pretty extensive protocol governing outdoor activity on hot days. There's no evidence the protocol needs to be revisited. There is, however, ample reason to argue that Columbia County needs its own weather monitoring system; currently, the county must use stations from airports in McDuffie or Richmond counties to calculate the heat index. That's absurd.
Equally absurd is the rampant speculation on the cause of Chelsea Collins' tragic and untimely death, especially by those with an ax to grind. Chelsea's memory deserves better than for her to become an unwilling poster-child for any interest group's pet cause. That, we do know.
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