Breaking News
More () »

Sister of Indiana State Fair stage collapse victim remembers tragic night 10 years later

Alina BigJohny celebrated her 23rd birthday one week before attending the Sugarland concert at the state fair.

INDIANAPOLIS — Ten years after a horrific scene at the Indiana State Fair, family members who lost loved ones continue to honor their lives.

"Even though she's a free spirit, she loved the spotlight, like she absolutely loved the spotlight," said Christy BigJohny, Alina's sister.

Alina celebrated her 23rd birthday one week before attending the Sugarland concert at the state fair with her best friend, Jennifer Haskell.

"They had been waiting forever for that concert. I've had people reach out to me that I don't know that were at the concert saying she was having the time of her life," BigJohny said.

That was Aug. 13, 2011 – a day marked by tragedy. Winds from an approaching thunderstorm caused the stage to collapse.

Credit: WTHR

Seven people died, including Alina.

Haskell died six days later. Dozens were injured.

Christy and Alina had texted each other around 8:30 that night.

"I knew if she was OK she would have found a phone. Somewhere, somehow she would have found a phone," BigJohny said.

Credit: Christy BigJohny

The family got word of Alina's death as they drove from Fort Wayne to the fairgrounds. A state trooper answered Alina's cell phone.

"They wouldn't let us see her, none of us. So what they were doing was the coroner was getting pictures ready for them to verify and identify her. We never got to see her until the funeral," BigJohny said.

BigJohny came to a memorial site at the Indiana State Fair twice; a year after the stage collapse happened and again in 2016 to see her sister's name on a plaque memorial. She said this time of year is always tough.

"It's kind of a surreal moment going there where she was, where she took her last breath," BigJohny said. "And when you find out the stage was built incorrectly and it wasn't little or minor, it was major. They didn't build it correctly. And then you find out that such a big structure doesn't have to be inspected and you have 12,000...how may people there? Like what? And you hear the band and the state fair officials were getting notifications about this weather."

All things, she says, that could have been prevented.

Now she's left with memories of her sister and still has has Alina's cellphone and camera from that day.

"When I tell you I can hand you her camera with time stamps showing you how sunny it was and how sudden it was..." BigJohny said.

Now, she uses her sister's memory to keep going.

"She wrote an autobiography when she was in college and the last sentence says 'Keep moving forward with faith and hope,'" BigJohny said.

BigJohny said Alina even encouraged her, spiritually, to go into photography.

"And I hear her like, 'You are amazing. Keep it up. So that's why I say I can always hear her. She's just that person, that light, that spirit. Just stick with it. Just try it,'" BigJohny said.

Words BigJohny said helps get her through tough times.    

Before You Leave, Check This Out