Survivors of a New Hampshire circus tent collapse that killed a 41-year-old father and his 8-year-old daughter described the experience as the most terrifying moment of their lives.
Robert Young of Concord, Vermont, and his daughter Annabelle were hit by collapsing tent infrastructure, including pipes, when a storm with 75-mph winds tore through the Lancaster Fairgrounds in New Hampshire Monday. The National Weather Service is characterizing the weather pattern a microburst.
New Hampshire State Fire Marshal J. William Degnan Tuesday said no authorities were involved in setting up the tent and that organizers did not obtain a "place of assembly" permit. Degnan said he is investigating the cause of the tent collapse, and looking into statutes that pertain to not obtaining a proper permit.
As the investigation continues, survivors are sharing harrowing stories about how they escaped from the structure.
Briana Shannon, who took 3-year-old Karter Shannon to the circus Monday, described a perfect start to the night, with a pony ride and some carnival snacks for the toddler. Shannon dragged her sister Gabrielle Lepine along, too.
It was Lepine who saved little Karter's life when the tent came crashing down around 5:45 p.m.
"As it started shaking, she [Lepine] said, 'we should run,'" Shannon said.
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"I grabbed her son, picked him up, and started running," said Shannon's sister Gabrielle Lepine. "It landed on top of us, and we fell flat.
Lepine and Shannon thought it was the end for their family.
Lepine was hit the head by a pole — a pole she says that would've hit her nephew Karter. Lepine suffered a neck injury and a minor concussion. She is expected to make a full recovery.
"There is no way possible way that pole wouldn't have killed him," Shannon said through tears.
Within minutes, people started making a tunnel for them to escape the collapsed tent, and then they say it was pure panic in the gusting wind and hail.
"It was chaotic, everybody was running and screaming, there were lots of kids screaming," Lepine said.
After a night at the hospital, the sisters have a whole new perspective on life.
"Relief, thinking it could've been us and my children, I feel bad saying that because I do feel bad for the people who died, but I am so thankful that we were all okay," Shannon said.
"It's something I will have with me for the rest of my life," Lepine said.
Like many victims, little Karter is having a difficult time coping with the tragedy.
Shannon said he woke up Tuesday morning telling his parents that the "circus came crashing down" on him.
Shannon and Lepine say they are taking him to another circus soon in hopes of erasing this memory and making new ones.