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Indiana Stage Collapse Memorial Service: Grief, Pain, and Pride

Memorial service honors victims; State Fair reopens today

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By R. Leigh Coleman, Christian Post Reporter
August 15, 2011|3:01 pm

With flags holding at half-staff, a teary crowd of hundreds gathered Monday morning to pay tribute to the victims of the tragic stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair.

The memorial service took on a sober mood as mourners remembered the horrific events that took place on Saturday when sudden wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph toppled the main stage on the fairgrounds where an estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the country band Sugarland.

The monumental stage toppled like a straw hut killing five and injuring some 40 concertgoers – some are still fighting for their lives at area hospitals.

Area meteorologists say the windstorm that destroyed the stage was a "fluke" that no one could have anticipated. Rain had been in the forecast, but not the sudden high winds that caused such havoc, local weather reports said.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels told the emotional crowd attending the service the tragedy has broken the hearts of the entire state of Indiana.

"Our hearts are broken for those that we have lost, for those we mourn," the governor said.

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"But our hearts are broken likewise for those who work so very hard for a full year to try to make the Indiana state fair the great event that it is."

Before the service came to an end, five young people lined up in front of the stage holding bouquets of flowers in honor of the dead as the victim's names were read aloud.

Four of the victims died at the scene: Santiago, Alina Bigjohny, 23, of Fort Wayne; and Tammy Vandam, 42, of Wanatah; and 49-year-old Glenn Goodrich of Indianapolis. Nathan Byrd, a 51-year-old stagehand from Indianapolis who was atop the rigging when it fell, died overnight.

Officials said one of the youngest injured and still fighting for her life includes a 5th grader identified only as "Jade." The girl's family issued a statement to the media "to thank those who have been praying for her and ask them to continue praying."

One of the amazing stories coming to the surface today is the brave fairgoers who not only stayed after the stage crashed down on the crowd, but stepped up to help in the rescue efforts.

Despite the worsening storm elements, many rescuers heaved heavy rigging off victims pinned under the debris. More volunteers turned toppled chair rows into stretchers and created triage areas.

One videographer, who caught the tragedy on film, said it was amazing to see what happened after the wind blew down the stage.

“People started running away when the stage came down,” he told CNN.

“But they immediately turned around and ran back to help those trapped. It was an emotional thing to see these folks who did not know each other risking their lives to save the injured."

First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police told Chicago newspapers the lack of damage to structures on the fair's midway or elsewhere supported the weather service's belief that an isolated, significant wind gust caused the rigging to topple.

"All of us know without exception in Indiana the weather can change from one report to another report, and that was the case here," Burnsten said.

Concert-goers and other witnesses are telling reporters that an announcer warned them about impending bad weather but gave out conflicting accounts of weather even when the emergency sirens at the fair were blowing.

Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it's not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm.

Fair officials said the Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration and state fire marshal's office were investigating.

Officials said the investigation could take months.

The storm hit minutes before the headliners took the stage. Sugarland is currently on tour with Sara Bareilles.

"The accident at the Indiana State Fair felt like a bad dream," Bareilles wrote on her website. "The weather changed in a matter of minutes and the stage collapsed in a matter of seconds."

Sugarland's frontwoman, Jennifer Nettles, released a lengthy statement on the band's official website about the incident.

"I am so moved. Moved by the grief of those families who lost loved ones. Moved by the pain of those who were injured and the fear of their families. Moved by the great heroism as I watched so many brave Indianapolis fans actually run toward the stage to try and help lift and rescue those injured. Moved by the quickness and organization of the emergency workers who set up the triage and tended to the injured. There are no words to process a moment like this.”

 

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