Memorial for victims of the Indiana State Fair stage collapse (AP Photo)
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Hundreds of mourners gathered Monday at the Indiana State Fairgrounds to remember five people killed when high winds caused an outdoor stage to collapse onto an audience awaiting the start of a country music concert.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told the roughly 500 mourners that the tragedy has broken the hearts of the state's residents. He became emotional as he praised those who rushed to the stage to help the injured.
"I cannot tell you how proud I am," Daniels said, his voice cracking, "to be the employee of six and half million people like that."
Daniels said Saturday's stage collapse was especially sad because the state fair is "a family reunion of all Hoosiers," where farmers and city dwellers gather for fun.
Steven and Amanda Potaczek of the band 1,000 Generations opened the service with "Fail Us Not," a song they wrote when one of their friends died in 2008. Amanda Potaczek said the song is keeping trust in God when tragedies happen.
"Stuff like this does not defeat him," she said.
Wind gusts between 60 and 70 mph toppled the stage Saturday night as an estimated 12,000 people were waiting to see the band Sugarland. About four dozen people, some critically injured, were taken to hospitals.
As Monday's service drew to a close, 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.
Indiana's first lady Cheri Daniels, who presides over fair events each year, said there are two options when tragedy strikes: to give up or rebuild.
"We have decided that we want to take heart and rebuild," she said, as the state fair reopened following a one-day closure.
Daniels ordered flags at the fairgrounds flown at half-staff in honor of the victims.
Four of the victims died at the scene: Alina Bigjohny
, 23, of Fort Wayne; Christina Santiago, 29, of Chicago; 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.
Nathan Byrd's older brother Randy Byrd, 54 of Indianapolis, said his brother was always a daredevil. Friends and colleagues knew he would fearlessly scale stage rigs, and dubbed him "Save-the-Show Nate," Randy Byrd said.
The Byrd family sat at the front of the service, red-eyed and wiping away tears. Nathan Byrd's daughter, Natalie, remembered her father as a man who loved making everyone laugh.
"Nathan meant everything in the world to me," said Loretta Byrd, Nathan's mother.
Santiago managed programming for the Lesbian Community Care Project at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago and was named to the Windy City Times' "30 Under 30" list in 2007.
Jamal M. Edwards, the center's president and CEO, said she was one of the organization's "brightest stars" and worked to improve the lives of women, especially those who were lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Santiago attended the concert with her partner, Alisha Brennon, who was severely injured, Edwards said.
Bigjohny had been recently hired to teach seventh grade in Muncie, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported.
Kayla Sollers, 20, attended Manchester College with Bigjohny. She drove down from the campus Monday morning, bringing a sign with pictures of Bigjohny that read "Rejoice in Paradise. Alina Bigjohny."
"She was full of life, energetic and caring," Sollers said.
After the service, the quickly reopened, while visitors paid their respects to the five victims.
David and Jennifer Dominianni from the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers brought their 7-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son, in part so they could honor the dead and show their daughter the stage wreckage.
Jennifer Dominianni said they told their daughter about the accident because they don't like to hide things from her.
"She said, 'That's where they lost their lives?' And we said yes. She understands that it was a tragedy," Dominianni said.
The family visited a makeshift memorial to the victims covered in flowers and wreaths, she said.
Only then did the family proceed on to indulge in "kids stuff" at the fair, heading off to see cows, hogs and baby chicks in the various livestock barns.
Daniels has said the wind burst was a "fluke" that no one could have foreseen. Dan McCarthy, chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Indiana, said the gust was far stronger than those in other areas of the fairgrounds.
The seemingly capricious nature of the gust was evident Sunday at the fair. A striped tent near the grandstand appeared unscathed, as did an aluminum trailer about 50 yards across from the grandstand. The Ferris wheel on the midway also escaped damage.
First Sgt. Dave Bursten of the Indiana State Police said 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," he said.
Fair officials had begun preparing in case they needed to evacuate visitors for the impending storm. Additional state troopers had been moved to the grandstand to help in the event of an evacuation, state police said.
Concert-goers and other witnesses said an announcer warned them of impending bad weather but gave conflicting accounts of whether emergency sirens sounded at the fair.
Meteorologist John Hendrickson said it's not unusual for strong winds to precede a thunderstorm, and that Saturday's gust might have been channeled through the stage area by buildings on either side of the dirt track where the stage fell, at the bottom of the grandstand.
The Indiana Occupational Health and Safety Administration and state fire marshal were investigating. The probe could take months, Bursten said.
The owner of Mid-America Sound Corp., which installed the rigging, expressed sympathy for the families of those killed or injured. Kerry Darrenkamp also said the Greenfield, Ind.-based company had begun "an independent internal investigation to understand, to the best of our ability, what happened."
Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland sent a statement to The Associated Press through her marketing manager, saying she watched video of the collapse on the news "in horror."
"I am so moved," she said. "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."
The duo — composed of Nettles and Kristian Bush — canceled their Sunday show at the Iowa State Fair.
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