Sixteen injured in stage collapse at Westfield High School auditorium

Seventeen students were injured when the stage gave way and collapsed into the orchestra pit below.
Sixteen injured in stage collapse at Westfield High School auditorium
Sixteen injured in stage collapse at Westfield High School auditorium
Sixteen injured in stage collapse at Westfield High School auditorium
All of the 16 students injured in a stage collapse Thursday night at Westfield High School are back home recuperating. What was meant to be a celebration capping off the students' high school careers turned into a horrifying spectacle, but many are feeling grateful that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

Some time around 10:30 pm Thursday night at Westfield High School, the stage gave way under the weight of dozens of students, who were performing the finale of "American Pie," a rock concert, to a sold-out auditorium of 900. As they sang a cover of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'", a large group of students ran onto the stage, started dancing, then fell 12 feet into an orchestra pit below, sending up a cloud of dust. The students injured were all on the stage. No one was in the orchestra pit.

Screams can be heard on the video showing the incident, which made its way around the world via social media.

"There's so much confusion. Everyone's crying and people are looking down at us and telling us to get out of the way and everyone's like jumping down and it's just so much confusion at once and you're just trying to figure out where are my friends and is everyone ok.  It's terrifying," said Spencer Hartford, senior band member.

"When I fell, I fell here.  This was the main impact point. I fell sideways and then somebody landed on my arm, I don't know who but I was piled on, there was a bunch of people on top of me and I couldn't move at all," said Reid Markus, senior band member.

Westfield Washington Schools Superintendent Mark Keen said the stage fell a lot further than it appeared from video circulating Thursday night, crashing roughly 12 feet to a concrete floor.

Keen said at a news conference Friday afternoon that the investigation is in full swing, with a forensic engineer and a criminologist among the investigators examining the debris.

Most importantly, Keen said the students were bouncing back. He reported them to be in good spirits on Friday, with few students appearing to be in need of the counselors that the school made available. Classes were held as scheduled, although the superintendent said the parking lot was a little lighter than usual.

"The thing is, the show was the best that we ever had and the thing that really sucks about it is it's so overshadowed by this," said Hartford.

Desi Hoffman, a 16-year-old choir student, was one of the most seriously injured, with bruising to her face as she struck a beam when she fell. Initially her condition was considered critical. She has since been upgraded after undergoing several scans and remains in the hospital in stable condition."The stage collapsed and then they had us all try to remain in our seats - a lot of parents were getting up, running up there and a bunch of people got together and moved the stage off to the side. I just was really trying to figure out if that stage was meant to hold that kind of weight 'cause it was 40, 50 teenage students up there," said Richard McMannis, Desi's father, speaking to WTHR at St. Vincent Hospital Friday morning.

In all, six students were taken by ambulance to local hospitals, and ten students were taken by their parents to be checked out. They all had what are described as minor orthopedic injuries.

A total of 12 agencies responded with emergency crews to assist the injured, although many of the injured students had already been removed from the scene by the time they arrived. Westfield Mayor Andy Cook said he was "so proud of our first responders." "They had the situation well under control," he said. Cook visited multiple hospitals to visit with patients. He described them as "in good spirits." 

When Cook was first notified, he was concerned, saying "stage collapses here in Indiana has a special connotation." 

The auditorium scene will be preserved as investigators do their work, and on Friday, Westfield Police had a mobile command unit at the high school with the stage entrance cordoned off with yellow tape. 

"None of us know obviously the technicals of how they put it together," said Alex Beckman, a senior performer.

St. Vincent Hospitals in Indianapolis and Carmel treated several of the injured. Two patients went to the Riverview Health Emergency Department on their own. IU Health North treated one patient, who has been released. 

One student tweeted that he was released with a concussion.

"Thankfully I did not fall in"

We spoke with Blake Rice, the student who was playing a guitar solo in the moments before the collapse. He said he was just feet away from the part of the stage that caved-in.

"I kind of scooted over just a step to the left just to kind of make more room for more people, and it was probably not even three seconds after I stepped over that the stage just basically collapsed, I was three feet from being in the pit myself," he said. "Thankfully I did not fall in. Thankfully a lot of my fellow cast members and peers were for the most part, okay. I'm definitely keeping them in my thoughts and prayers." 

Sara Camden, a woman whose son was performing Thursday night, said she'd seen students practice on the stage numerous times but wasn't aware of any structural problems. Her son was not among the injured.

"After everybody got off me and I was trying to get up, I saw all the parents leaning over me looking in.  I was like, let's not make this a big deal.  It's just a minor set back and kind of realized it wasn't a minor set back," said Patrick Maloney, senior band member.

Witnesses report the stage falling into the floor. 

"It all just collapsed under them," said one witness. "We didn't think it was real at first," said another, explaining that he and his friends thought it might be part of the performance. 

Another student, A.J. Hillis, told WTHR that all of the people on the stage were students. He said he saw one student with a broken leg. 

"Nobody was expecting this. Everyone was seriously excited about it. It was a hyped up performance. It was good," said Hillis, who added that he comforted a woman whose daughter turned out to be uninjured.Westfield's principal Stacy McGuire tweeted last night that she was "so grateful for the 1st responders who helped us this evening - Westfield [Hamilton County] and State - thank you for taking care of our kids & your service."

Superintendent of Westfield Schools, Dr. Mark Keen, credited the safety drills and communication with the first responders for helping manage the situation. His hope was to return to "normalcy on Monday." 

Keen said he had stood on that spot on the stage multiple times. "After watching the video, it appeared the cover collapsed. The school is prepared to produce maintenance records for the investigators," Keen said. 

WHS Principal Stacy McGuire met with faculty before school Friday. "People have to process what happened,"  Keen said.