WESTFIELD, Ind. — It was the final act of a high school show celebrating the history of rock ‘n’ roll, with the cast coming out on stage to jump, clap and sing along to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
Then it came crashing down.
Pandemonium quickly followed in the auditorium of Westfield High School in Indiana, where some students were pinned by the collapsed platform and other debris around 10 p.m. Thursday. A mother at the show, Sara Camden, described it as being “a dog pile down in the pit” as men rushed up to try to free the students.
“I could tell that everyone down there was afraid,” her son Blake Rice, one of the student performers who was a few feet from falling in himself, told CNN. “… It was honestly just shocking. I never could have seen anything like that happening.”
Many of the students ended up being transported to local hospitals, including one girl initially listed in critical condition.
Thankfully, she “was in very good spirits (and) seemed to be just fine,” Westfield Mayor Andy Cook told reporters Friday morning. Westfield police Capt. Charles Hollowell said all those who needed medical attention had only “minor injuries.”
Everyone was thankful it didn’t turn out much worse. Westfield is a suburb of Indianapolis, where high winds blew a stage roof onto concert spectators at the 2011 Indiana State Fair, killing seven and injuring dozens.
“The words ‘stage collapse’ here in Indiana has a special connotation to it,” Cook said, “so yes, I was very, very concerned.”
Mark Keen, the superintendent of Westfield Washington Schools, praised first responders and those at the school who came quickly afterward to assist.
“You never want something like this to happen,” Keen told reporters Friday morning. “But everybody worked together in the community to make it right.”
Mayor to injured students: ‘You must been really rocking’
The “American Pie” concert is a proud and, usually, a fun tradition at Westfield High, with Cook describing it as “a phenomenal student-led history of rock ‘n’ roll (that) people look forward to … every year.”
And by all measures, Thursday night’s show put on by about 75 students was living up to the hype. Rice, who played guitar in the show, said “it was just like any other performance right up until the incident occurred.”
That’s when happiness gave way to horror, as a part of the stage — which is sometimes opened up for an orchestra, but in this case was covered — “collapsed in total immediately,” Keen said.
The Indiana State Police are assisting local police to find out what caused the accident. The school building opened in 1997.
School resumed Friday morning, and Keen said faculty and staff would talk about the collapse in hopes that things get back to normal as soon as possible.
He and others said one big thing Westfield, a city of about 33,000, has going for it is its sense of community.
“These are kids that we’ve known forever, so we care about all of them like family,” Camden said.
Cook visited some of the injured students at area hospitals to cheer them up.
“I (told them), ‘You must have been really rocking.’ And they said, ‘Yes,'” the mayor recalled. “It was the last piece of music, and they rocked.”