Lazar LaPenna, a fourth grader at East School in Long Beach, passed away Friday after running to first base and collapsing.
Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne spoke with Lazar’s heartbroken father at their home.
“The town has been so supportive, everybody,” Gregg LaPenna said through tears.
Gregg LaPenna, who is also the coach of the team, said Lazar was diagnosed several years ago with epilepsy, was taking medication and being treated by doctors. He said the family didn’t allow Lazar to play any sports except baseball.
The night before he died, Lazar and his family celebrated his 10th birthday at a local restaurant. Gregg LaPenna said some of Lazar’s presents are still arriving in the mail.
“It’s just so sad,” he said.
Lazar was a huge Mets fan and loved playing baseball. The game last Friday in Point Lookout Park was like any other game — until it wasn’t.
“The last moment I saw was him standing on first, and he turned to me with a smile,” Gregg LaPenna said. “I looked at my scorebook to mark down the hit, and I heard his brother said, ‘Lazar’s having a seizure,’ and I look down, he’s laying down on first base. When I saw his face, I knew it wasn’t another normal seizure.”
Lazar’s older brother, 12-year-old Gerry LaPenna, was coaching first base at the time and said his brother put an arm on his shoulder as he tried to brace himself from falling over, but then collapsed.
“He was a really good kid,” Gerry said. “He loved everything he did.”
LaPenna said EMTs tried performing CPR on Lazar for quite some time, but their efforts were not successful.
“He was a such a gentle soul,” Gregg LaPenna said. “He never wanted to be alone. We’re going to keep him close to us.”
He said the family had recently taken a cruise to Bermuda, and they had no idea this could be coming.
“This tragedy is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions for students and staff, particularly for who are close to this family,” Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Gallagher said. “All of our schools have a Crisis Intervention Team made up of a professionals trained to help with the needs of students, parents, and school personnel at difficult times such as this.”
Grief counselors will be available all week for any student or parent who may need or want help or any type of assistance.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to mother Monique, father and coach Gregg, brothers Gerry and Blaze, and the entire LaPenna family,” league officials said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them all at this time.”
The remainder of the season will be dedicated to the LaPenna family and will be played in Lazar’s honor, and his team will hold a moment of silence before Monday’s game.
At Point Lookout Park, children have left behind baseball caps signed with Lazar’s name.
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