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Community stays ‘Westfield Strong’ after stage collapse

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WISH) – A stage collapsed at Westfield High School Thursday night, leaving more than a dozen students injured and witnesses shocked. Officials spoke to the media Friday morning. They say that all the injuries in the collapse were minor.

According to the Westfield High School website, students were performing the musical “American Pie” at the school auditorium. During the performance, dozens of students were dancing on the stage when the orchestra pit collapsed under them around 10:08 p.m.

Blake Rice, an 18-year-old senior, said he was playing guitar in the performance, a tribute to ’80s music. As the last song began, Rice said he took a step back to allow more students onto the stage. He saw the stage collapse but did not fall through.

“At first, it didn’t seem real. It didn’t really register with me what happened,” Rice said.

Rice said people in the audience immediately ran toward the stage and began pulling debris off students. Auditorium staff pulled people out of the pit, he said.

“I realized how lucky I was,” Rice said. “Another 3 seconds and that could have been me.”

The sold-out performance had about 900 people in attendance, the Westfield Fire Department said Friday morning. There were 75 performers in the show and 50 staff members working with them on the production.

Anna Skinner, a former student and reporter for the Current in Westfield, was at the performance.

“It wasn’t very clear from my standpoint from the back of what happened but then once people put it together that kids were hurt and something drastic happened, it became chaotic,” Skinner said. “Of course everybody started to help. A sold out show is about 1,000 people and so it was completely sold out and so there were about a-thousand people trying to assist.”

“It was just crazy, it was chaotic”

Skinner said a call went out for anyone with medical training to assist immediately after the accident. Cameron Snyder is a senior at Westfield.

“I was up really high up in the stands and then all of the sudden they were all just having a great time and then boom just the stage went out and everyone went down and it was just crazy it was chaotic and everything,” Snyder said.

Capt. Charles Hollowell from the Westfield Police Department said investigators are looking at the structure of the stage for the cause of the collapse. Westfield Police Department will lead the investigation with the assistance of Indiana State Police. Hollowell said they want a thorough investigation and will use other resources to make sure the investigation is complete. The investigation will begin Friday.

Video of the accident was tweeted by Zach Rader.

Another video of the accident was tweeted by Sara Camden.

Alyssa Schrenker spoke to 24-Hour News 8 outside of Westfield High School.

“People just burst into tears,” Schrenker said. “I went on stage and a mother there was in so much shock she was just grabbing my arm.” According to officials the school opened in 1997. The stage has been replaced and repaired since then.

Superintendent Dr. Mark Keen said they are working to secure all records available.

“I’ve stood on the stage a number of times. Some productions it’s open, other times there’s a cover. It appeared the cover collapsed in total immediately.” Keen said that he was proud of the staff and first responders that were on the scene right away.

Area hospitals received those who were hurt after the incident. Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said early Friday morning that no students suffered life-threatening injuries.

Riverview Health released this statement on the collapse:

Riverview Health activated Incident Command in response to a report of mass casualties at Westfield High School at 10:08 pm on Thursday, April 23. At this time, none of the victims have been transported via ambulance to Riverview Health. We have confirmed that two victims came into the Riverview Health Emergency Department on their own and are currently being evaluating for their injuries. We will provide an update as warranted.

On Friday morning only one patient remained at St. Vincent Indianapolis Hospital.

Westfield officials said school would not be canceled Friday and faculty was expected to come in early to work through the process.

“Our plan is for classes to be in session tomorrow but we would like the students to be here in school we can have communication with the students. I think it’s best to be here with our staff members have that communication and actually talk about what happened,” Chris Baldwin from the Westfield-Washington School district said

Baldwin added guidance counselors would be on hand at the school. Mayor Cook wanted to let students know that their city is behind them. He also spoke to the next step.

“Before we left the site, the Indiana Fire Marshal was on the scene,” said Cook. During the Friday morning press conference Cook said the “word stage collapse in Indiana has a special connotation to it. I was concerned.”

Cook spoke with three of the girls in the stage collapse he said they were all in good spirits and ready to get back.

“I’m very proud of our community, how we pulled together.”

Keen echoed Cook by saying it was the community that really pulled through.

“It was a great community effort and great support from the first responders. You never like something like this to happen, and again we’ll work through this. But everybody in the community worked together to make it come out right,” Keen said.The Associated Press contributed to this report.