The Minnehaha Academy community is in mourning after two of their staff were killed in an explosion and subsequent building collapse at the school’s upper campus. A total of nine other people were injured in the school building collapse. The death toll could have been catastrophically higher had the school been back in session. The incident is a reminder of the risk of a building collapse after a gas explosion.
Investigators are now beginning the lengthy process of determining what led to the explosion, which is believed to have in turn caused the collapse. They are also looking into contractors who were working on-site at the time.
Gas Explosion Causes Minnehaha Academy to Collapse
The explosion happened around 10:20 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday, August 2, 2017, as staff prepared for the upcoming school year, which was scheduled to start on August 23. Officials say that a project to move a gas meter from inside a boiler room at the Academy to an outdoor location was underway when the explosion and subsequent structural collapse occurred. Witnesses reported learning that there was a gas leak immediately before the explosion.
Approximately 12 students were inside the school’s gym for the Academy’s summer program, but, fortunately, none were injured. A Minnehaha Academy staff member said that a total of between 35 and 50 people were in the “upper school,” which normally houses the high school students and was the affected building. Two of those people were killed and nine more were injured.
Deborah Dillaway lives across the street from Minnehaha Academy and said that she heard the sound of the explosion and looked over to see an empty space where once there had been a building.
“The dogs were startled and came out 30 seconds later, saw where the building used to be one continuous building now had a gap,” Dillaway said in an interview with CBS Minnesota. “I could see sunlight all the way through to the other side.”
Firefighters who responded to the scene braced for an overwhelming sight but were still shocked by how much of the building had been destroyed in the explosion and collapse. Chad Juncker was one of the firefighters to first arrive at Minnehaha Academy and was faced with a frightening uncertainty.
“I think we were all wondering if people were even save-able in the situation,” Juncker said.
Two Staff Killed, While Others Experience Life-Changing Injuries and Close Calls in Minneapolis Building Collapse
The aftermath of the school collapse was chaotic, with staff members, such as long-time custodian John Carlson, and numerous people being transported to the hospital for treatment of a range of injuries.
School Receptionist Was Set to Wed in October
Forty-seven-year-old Ruth Berg was a receptionist at Minnehaha Academy and was the first person identified as having been killed in the Minneapolis building collapse. The medical examiner revealed the cause of Berg’s death on August 4, 2017, saying that Berg, as well as Carlson, had died from blunt force injuries suffered in the collapse.
Berg had worked at the school for 17 years and was known for her smile and eagerness to help those in need. She was engaged to Mark Burrington, who said that they were planning to get married in October. Burrington also said that Berg considered Carlson a good friend, which gave him some peace about her passing.
A public memorial service for Berg was scheduled for August 13, 2017, in the Academy’s lower and middle school chapel.
82-Year-Old Custodian Had Attended the Minnehaha Academy
School custodian John Carlson, like Berg, had a long history with the school. He had worked at Minnehaha Academy for more than 13 years but had also gone to the school as a youth, as did his children. The Academy, on its Facebook page, described Carlson as “Minnehaha’s biggest cheerleader.”
Carlson was not scheduled to work on the day of Minneapolis building collapse, but had gone in anyway. Emergency personnel knocked down the remaining building walls at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the collapse as search efforts to find the missing Carlson continued. It was not until approximately 8:00 p.m. that he was found.
A memorial service for Carlson was held on August 6, 2017, at the Academy.
Soccer Coach Injured During Building Failure Undergoes Surgery to Have Leg Amputated
Bryan Duffey is the soccer coach at Minnehaha Academy and he sustained major injuries. He was downgraded from “critical, but stable” to “serious” condition on August 9, 2017, after three surgeries, including an amputation of his right leg.
Duffey had been pinned by a fallen column and wall and was rescued by two first responders and an off-duty deputy who happened to live nearby. The men had to remove the wall brick-by-brick to free Duffey.
“The men needed to uncover Bryan’s entire lower body in order to get him to safety,” Jamie Duffey, Bryan’s wife, wrote on a Caring Bridge site set up for him. “I am overwhelmed thinking about how blessed we are to have had these men there and to have Bryan still with us today.”
Pregnant Guidance Counselor Was Able to Escape Structural Collapse
One of the lucky people to make it out of the Minneapolis building collapse without injury was Kristin Overton, who is the school’s guidance counselor and is also seven months pregnant. A colleague of Overton’s ran into her office to warn her—and others in the room—about the gas leak and to get out of the building. The explosion happened before the colleague could finish her warning.
“What really struck me was how loud it was. You could almost just sort of feel your entire body shake. It was pretty violent,” Overton said in an interview with CBS Minnesota. “My first thought was, ‘I need to get myself and the baby out of here.’ It was definitely full of panic.”
Overton, who had crawled under her desk after the warning, took those she was with and fled the nearly demolished building through a backdoor. She has since been reassured by doctors that her unborn son was not harmed in the ordeal.
NTSB Will Investigate a Local Contractor’s Connection to the Explosion and School Building Collapse in Minnesota
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will investigate the Minnehaha Academy explosion and building collapse. As of Wednesday, August 4, 2017, however, the safety agency was delayed in its investigative efforts by dangerous conditions at the accident site.
Chris Hart is a member of the NTSB and said that they are looking into whether a father-son contracting team hired by Master Mechanical Inc. may have had a role in the building failure. Master Mechanical Inc. had been hired by the school to move a gas meter from the boiler room inside the upper school building to a new location outside. Hart also said that the duo were “in the process of moving the gas meter,” at the time of the explosion.
Master Mechanical Inc., which is based out of Eagen, issued the following statement on the explosion and collapse:
Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in this tragedy and especially with the families and loved ones of those who have died or who have been injured. We are forever grateful to those first responders and bystanders who came to the aid of all of the injured, including our employees.
We continue to monitor the situation and are working in full cooperation with the Minneapolis Fire Department. At this time, we are referring all questions about the event to the Minneapolis Fire Department out of respect for their continued efforts.