This is my account of what I visually and physically experienced during the Apollo Theater tornado and roof collapse. I’m still processing everything so bear with me. This is being pieced together over time as my body and mind start to ease up. There will be a ton of grammatical and phrasing issues due to this being written as I go. There will be no edits to this body of work.
There is a lot of misinformation out there. No bands were playing. The first band Crypta, ended their set right when the warning came across the phones. The venue made an announcement that they were stopping the show for 30 mins until everything passed and asked people to move towards the basement doors. Most people like myself walked into the bar or to merch tables in the back the areas weren’t wide open like the floor. The venue employees in the music hall started to try and have people head toward the basement once it looked like things were getting more serious in the region. I was standing in the front of the bar area talking to a venue worker I am familiar with when the front walls started shaking. Right before my mother texted me saying they are in the basement because of the storm at home. I even mentioned this to him. Seconds later, I looked out at the window we stood near and it was all of a sudden raining. When I walked into the venue 20 minutes earlier it hadn’t been nor had it been on the drive down from Stoughton, WI. The rain was now horizontally moving across the window. which is always a really bad sign. For crying out loud it is March in the Upper Midwest. We get snow, not severe thunderstorms this time of year. Then it got loud and noisy, almost deafening. No tornado sirens were going off. The city is lying about that. The employee and I looked at each other and then looked at the front door to the bar room. It was shaking even more violently. Then with very little effort, the two front sections of the wall ripped off and into the street. Again with the wall wide open, there were no sirens going off. The air and wind moved through the room. It rushed around our bodies. We were standing the closest to those front sections. During this, the entire staff was screaming for people to head to the basement and bathrooms. I grabbed my camera gear and walked to the back entryway where people were trying to get onto the floor and head into the back section. I was a few people deep and the sound was beyond deafening. I saw dust in the air and didn’t think anything of it. I was in sensory overload like many others. The only thing I could think of was to get to a sturdy structure right now, so I backed down the little ramp and headed toward the bathroom. I couldn’t get in it was fairly full. I decided to stand next to the bar in a corner where there was a sturdy overhead. Once I positioned myself and had the bathroom close the doorway, I then looked up and saw bright flashes of light through the door to the main floor I had not more than a few seconds before stood trying to get into. Later on, after everything, I realized it was lightning from the opening above. We had no clue the roof collapsed. The intensity of the storm made it unnoticeable.
Out of nowhere, I saw people running out of the music hall portion. Once the noise quieted down people came out of the bathrooms and started running out of the building. It was a mad dash. As soon as I became fully situated a guy ran in saying the roof collapsed and they needed help. Unbeknownst to me this guy would eventually be the first person I wound wind up hugging after the dreadful evening was over. I texted my mother back saying the roof collapsed, shoved my phone in my bag, and placed my camera gear into my bag then turned around and saw a kid with blood running down his face. That was when I went numb. I realized people truly needed every ounce of help possible. I ran to the door moving through people standing in shock or looking for a way out. As I got to the door shoved my way through people standing in front of the collapsed roof. Immediately, I jumped onto the pile trying to move debris with a handful of other people. I was one of the first few people there lifting. This section was massive. Live electrical cords hung down, splintered wood jabbed, nails protruding, and metal twisted. There was no time to think and just time to do. As more people came to lift and a lot of patrons left or were tending to injured folks already pulled out. Roughly 20-25 concertgoers lifted and pulled out debris from underneath our feet. A shoe came up while others were removing and everyone yelled “shoe” repeatedly. Then we had it lifted pretty well up and the police officer ran in between myself and another fan. He dove underneath the massive roof chunk. Before he started digging turn and said he said “Please, do not drop this.” We said, “we got you”. I saw two people for sure buried while another was being dug out on the other side and rescued quickly. I will never forget the face of the kid buried underneath reaching for help while we held it up. He was under a huge wood beam and stone rubble. His dirty blonde hair with green streaks was completely dusted over. His red long-sleeved shirt stood out amongst the white chalky plaster. I have no clue how he made it but he did. As most know, I have dealt with cancer 3 times and have had over 10 surgeries in my life. Several of them are major. A few of them were my left chest plate being fully removed because of cancer and Goretex plastic stitched into the muscle along with a twice-broken sternum, so full chest reconstruction and it didn’t matter one bit, I was doing what I could. I live with a ton of restrictions because of the surgeries I have had, so at points, I had to swap out a few times from the unbearable pain shooting through my body.
After I had to back out the first time I moved out of the way and off to the side next to the table I went to when I first walked in that evening. I had knelt down to gather myself. I looked into the rubble and a single black Converse shoe simply sat covered in ceiling plaster on top of a piece of wood. My heart sank. At that exact moment, I asked myself am I doing the right thing right now? Do I need to take a break right now? How can I help others? Will I remember myself doing the right thing to help? This was my motivation to not stop. Do anything and everything. My first thought was “Oh shit I texted my mom that the roof collapsed and never said I was alright”. I sent her a text saying I was helping dig people out and a photo of the room with those holding the roof. 10 minutes after the very first text from back home the reply I received was, “Be Safe”. At that moment I knew I was doing the best I possibly could with my folks knowing I was there trying to help. I walked to the back of the room and asked the employee I knew and whom I started this horrible experience with to help get all of the water we can to people that are in shock and injured. We walked into the bar room which was eerily silent and behind the counter and grabbed everything we could. We handed out water to people in shock along the side wall or sitting with the injured. I saw body parts broken in half, blood everywhere, and faces in shock. I kept telling people they have to talk and keep each other awake. I spoke with a man looking for his kid. He was on the floor with his leg completely broken apart. He asked me to look for his son and I told him I would knowing that he could not move and I will never be able to find his son. I asked him to please lay still. He leaned up and said he had to get up and I pushed his shoulder down and told him straight up, “That would be the worst option he could choose”. Then he stopped and looked at me and said, “My leg really hurts”. His left leg was completely snapped off and sideways. Think Joe Theisman snapped. I said to him if he lays down I would find his son. He laid back down then I left him with a staff member talking to him. I started to walk carrying water to the next set of people. A man completely beat up and bloodied, but alive the people with him were dust-covered and talking to him. I said,” Hey bro, here is water drink it and keep him awake help is coming”. They were with it and conscious of the situation around them. I tossed them 3 water bottles and moved on to my last stop which was a middle-aged man laying face up on the ground next to the merch booth in the back corner. He was still moving around a little, but it wasn’t looking good at all. The man clearly sustained a brutal impact. I presume it was his son who was there next to him completely covered in plaster and blood across his face. He was completely in shock and in a daze. I walked up and he watched me walk over intently I leaned next to the injured man and looked at him. It wasn’t good. I said to the kid, “Hey man, here is some water please watch over him.” He gave me a blank stare and a what the hell why do I want this look. I turned to the young woman holding the man’s head up and said, “Here is water. How can I help?” She didn’t say anything but took the water. I put my hand on the kid’s shoulder and said, “help is coming”. I knew I had no clue where the EMTs were. I stood up and moved to the side and looked at the room. This will be the spot I will retreat to later.
I looked back at the 3 injured people and they had people with them. Others were being removed out the front door and underneath the downed marquee by other bystanders. At that moment I slightly felt much better about things. A few minutes later EMTs would walk in and start taking the injured out of the room. After I took a few seconds to breathe walked up to the promoter. I asked Tyler where I can help and he said debris then pointed. I walked over and started pulling debris out again then I decided to walk around to the other side of the roof where there was an opening and jumped in with the others keeping it lifted feet above the ground. At this point, fire had arrived and used its long pry bars helping to support some of its weight. The fire and police department was underneath digging with their crowbars and jaws of life. Where I was holding I looked and a huge serrated hunk of wood poking out. If this ceiling chunk shifted I would’ve been stabbed in the throat. Not something I felt like enjoying, so I slid to the left a few inches and out of its way. As I held up my portion firemen were crawling in under our legs and throwing debris out the same way. I looked at the guy next to me and he looked like how I felt. Determined. Off to my right at the same time, they found a young woman underneath a roof board that no one knew was there. I realized I didn’t even know where the floor was. From the beginning, we never stood on the actual hardwood flooring at all. Anywhere in the room. I was on the roofing and plaster. Above us the entire time the night sky lit up with occasional drops of rain floating down on top of us. At first, I thought it was the lighting of the venue flashing, but it was still lightning overhead. That stuff didn’t matter though. It was about helping and caring for our fellow man. Once they removed the young woman a firefighter checked under the other areas with the jaws of life lifting boards all around us. The faces of people in the rubble alive continually gave me that extra boost to not stop moving, holding, removing debris, and talking to the injured people.
Meanwhile, as I was finally gaining a realization of the severity we all were in, the firefighter cleared the area underneath while we were still holding up the large roof portion gave a thumbs up. They checked and yelled into every nook and cranny. Watching them move as a united group checking section by section was incredible. As the other firefighters propped the roof up with boards left in the debris piles, we removed ourselves from holding it one by one. Many of us looked at each other and exchanged many long hard hugs. Our shock was starting to kick in. We witnessed and experienced a horrific act of nature. The aforementioned man was the first person I wound up hugging. I said to him, “We need to hug”. This tall, built man stood there crying. I wasn’t to that point yet, but I knew we all saw some shit. It might have been one of the most emotional moments of my life and that is really saying something. I have never experienced disaster without realizing it at the time. I then backed up and went to the corner of the room next to the merch stand to breathe and take in everything that just happened. As I turned to my left, the kids next to the merch table were gone and the man that was struggling earlier was covered in a blanket. He passed away. It didn’t register to me right away because I saw him moving still. The man with the shattered leg who just wanted to know where his son was had been removed by emergency personnel. The other group next to the main entrance were already gone as well. I recognized there were a lot of serious injuries, but then the impact of what just happened started to float into my head. EMTs removed all of the injured from the venue.
Once I gathered myself we were asked to exit the venue through the same wall I saw ripped off earlier. While I walked slowly around all of the roofing and debris, I looked around and gathered in the immensity of the situation. The stage merely an hour or so before was bright and Crypta performed an incredible set. It stands set up and completely covered in dust and debris. The Skeletal Remains banner hangs waiving from the wind blowing through the destroyed venue. The merch tables that had people around them were covered in dust, blood, and water and remained set up for sale. It felt like a ghost town. Everything felt like time stopped. I arrived at the side door into the bar room I looked at the empty space and grabbed a few bottles of water off of the bar top. I proceeded to walk through the front wall, a wall I saw fly across the street. The roof from the upper level of the building colored white lay in the street and on the sidewalk across the street. A blue vehicle crushed underneath it. When I was walking into the Apollo, I saw the parking spot open and said to myself, “Ah, that would’ve been a good spot”. Instead, I parked in my normal spot.Talk about creepy. I was still standing in the doorway yet and to my right people sat with head injuries and blood across them. Debris-covered hands reached out for the water bottles. Many were still waiting for assistance but looked like cuts and some light bleeding. I walked off to my right where the bridge started not knowing where to go or what to do. I took another long deep breath. I stared at the empty business front that I saw blown away. As I turned I saw the large marquee that hung above the venue’s entrances ripped down from its stabilization chains. State Street in front of the building was littered with rocks, bricks, and twisted metal metals. Every type of emergency personnel you could imagine filled the streets. Lights, screams, and sirens in the distance filled the air. Emergency units entered the building. I decided I needed to head toward my vehicle and try to calm down. I walked past the large red and white marquee, the injured were wrapped in blankets and against the walls of the venue. I walked next to the parking lot. I saw Crypta’s tour bus was crushed by the bricks that dropped from high above. I stopped dead in my tracks. Absolutely floored and then looked at the injured sitting next to the building, it was numerous. I then saw this kid against the wall nodding in and out. I quickly walked over to him and leaned over to talk and keep him awake. He knew everything that happened. He also knew where he was, his name, where he lived, and so on. Yet, it was starting to look bleaker and bleaker. I remained there and talked to him. He kept wanting to lie down because his back hurt him. I refused to let him move or fall asleep on me. He couldn’t move his hand it was stiff as a board. I constantly put my hand on his shoulder telling him to stick with me. Trying to engage in conversation with him over and over. He was in really bad shape. Blood ran down his face. One by one, the EMTs passed by virtually ignoring him. Eventually, I started yelling at whoever came by. Tapping them often on the shoulders. Yelling, “He has to go!”. Then I was able to flag an EMT down to make sure he got out before the others around him. I express major urgency and concern, yet again. They rated him Red Priority 1. His tag was hidden underneath him. They dropped it and threw a blanket on him. What the hell!?! Once the EMT saw his tag though she waived for a board to get him out. Her urgency and calm were reassuring. Another EMT asked him and me some questions and after a couple of tries, they were able to lay him down on the board and get him safely secured and had his neck braced beforehand. They then lifted him onto the stretcher. They asked if I was family and I said, “No, but I can call his family if we get his info”. They said, “No, we will get it”. I grabbed his arm and wished him the best. They then carted him down the street. I had his name and knew I would try to check on him soon enough. I asked what hospital he was going to be transferred to and it was Mercy in Loves Park.
Feeling relieved I walked down the block and I was quick to notice some building facades were destroyed but nothing major. As I reached the block corner yellow tape was up, but it was not holding people back. They were heading toward the Apollo with wide eyes searching. My car was around the corner and it was parked in from the electrical vehicles standing in the middle of the road. They raised their buckets up above to cut off power to the building. Remember the loose wires hanging were still live. The entire sky was illuminated with red and yellow flashing lights. This all was fine because I was in no shape to go anywhere. I threw my backpack in the trunk and stood in the light rain. I knew I needed to calm down and lower my anxiety. At this point, my phone was blowing up with people calling and texting. I made the Facebook posts I did to slow them down and inform the others I was alive. I returned some messages and called my parents. My folks were relieved obviously and tried to help calm me down. Said they were coming to get me and I told them don’t bother I am walking around for quite a while yet. A fan that was inside stopped while I was on the phone and I asked if he was okay. He said, “I was inside. I said, “I know we were holding up the roof next to each other”. He replied, “I am still very numb”. We had a long hug while my parents waited for me to return to the phone call. And then he went walking down the street looking for a cigarette. We all were trying to process this catastrophic event. Nobody ever signs up for this. No one knows what to think. You just work through it. I knew my futures struggle weren’t just mine. The most disgusting part was the number of people walking down to the street to take photos in awe. People taking selfies and other dumb stuff. I flew off the handle on three kids thinking it was cool openly vocal about it. I scared them off and hopefully made them think about it. A chaplain named Muriel happened to be walking by and stopped to talk with me for a bit. The police said they didn’t need her services. It was calming to me. I thanked her for those few minutes of simply talking. We had nothing in common. It didn’t matter to either of us. After that, I did a lot of walking around trying to lower the adrenaline rush. I saw the fire department flashing spotlights on the roof and then it all clicked for me. The roof ripped off and into the street slightly after the bar front ripped off of the building. As the front ripped off it led to the marquee ripping from the chains stabilizing it to the building. When the roof came off the upper part of the building, the bricks became destabilized and fell onto the roof which then collapsed. I realized it was exactly what I saw inside the building and on the floor. Red bricks scattered everywhere. I remembered looking up through the open roof of the building and seeing it all.
Reaching a point I felt I could leave and drive home I took several deep breaths, jumped into my car, and shot a few emails and texts off to make sure the bands and crew were okay. I then headed home very slowly and very carefully. I pulled over several times to answer emails from publicists and other business people I know. Walked around a few times as well. I even had a nice phone call from someone whom I met through friends and I talked to them getting the rest of the anxiety off of me. Once I pulled into the drive, I turned my car off from the long quiet drive and asked myself if I did everything I could. I feel I did. As I walked through the garage door, I immediately went to shower. My anxiety and stress dropped, but I was clearly still in shock. My clothes were covered in dirt and debris. Soaking wet from the long walks. The brand-new and never worn shoes that I bought earlier had scuff marks, puncture holes, and dirt covering them.
You always see things and wonder what you would do. I know what I did to try and help. Unfortunately, I now know what my reactions are and who I am in the face of tragedy. I know the bravery of others trying to help. I know people lost a friend and loved one. I know I will never unsee the destruction, faces, blood, bodies, and injuries. There were a lot of heroes there doing what they could. If it wasn’t for the quick reactions of the staff and patrons to get people out before emergency persons arrived it could’ve been much, much worse than it was. Doing what was right in a split second saved others. These heroes didn’t think, they just did it. The Apollo staff were incredible as well. I cannot forget to mention them. They tried to guide fans toward safe areas. As the local municipalities pat themselves on the back as they should they have at points conveniently left out the 30-35 people that stayed behind instead of running towards safety and helping those in need. I personally don’t want the back pat. I want to forget any of this happened. They were so many heroic and brave people. I cannot stop saying it. The heavy metal community gets a bad rap from those that aren’t in it, but you pick each other up and you help if able. That is the motto, that’s the responsibility of every metal fan. People’s race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, none of that stuff mattered. People, humanity, and caring for your fellow man are what mattered.
So where am I at right now personally? I haven’t left my house. I have managed to sleep about 20 hours since I returned home. When I woke up the first time my body was thrashed and depleted. The shock was still wearing off. I also caught a cold while walking around in the cold soaking wet. So Nyquil helped ease that. Then I went back to bed and woke up 6 hours later. Then I decided to type my experience out which is what you have read above. I find it to be a good way to deal with my PTSD from cancer-related issues so why not this? Then went back to bed. I woke up this morning and every part of my body hurt even more. Aches upon aches. I have had a raging headache since the event. I do not take pain meds because of my history but I did pop a few aspirins. The adrenaline and whatnot have finally subsided. I went and openly talked to my mother about everything I saw. The faces, blood, injuries, and the experience as a whole. Everything is in excruciating detail because it is seared into my brain. It hasn’t left my thoughts for a moment I have been awake. My mother pointed out my hands and I never realized it but they are bruised and raw from the lifting, pulling, and grabbing of material. Being open about my experience has been relieving. My takeaway overall is my pain doesn’t matter much because, in tragedy and chaos, I know who I am and how I reacted. I am proud of the part I played. I am extremely proud of everyone that stayed behind. People needed help and I ran towards it when others were running out the door. I also don’t blame people for running either. It was the hypothetical that everyone runs through their heads when they see things in the news. What would you do? Lately, I have been having a moral crisis in my head. I have done a lot of really good and a lot of garbage things. Now I know my past is just that, the past. I’m not that guy and never really was a bad person. It is building upon who I am now that is more important. I truly believe life puts you in places you were meant to be, good or bad. It is what you choose to do in those moments that matter most.
On a final note. I did make contact with the kid’s family and exchanged messages with his mother most of the day. He has several severe injuries and a long road to recovery but he is alive and conscious in good spirits. The following day I received a message from the young man himself. Knowing the level of injuries he is facing I told him to take it easy and that we will talk when the time is right. My friends, acquaintances, and random people have told me I am a hero, but I’m not. Some point to the video that went viral since I am the guy in the backpack standing there with 3 others trying to lift the roof part. There were others there. I just happen to do what I trusted was the right thing in others’ times of need. That makes me human, not a hero or brave. Heroism is tossed around so easily. I am not that in the slightest. I felt my part is better described as humanitarian. I felt it all. Ten minutes altered hundred of people’s lives.