Photographer Justin Nuoffer recounts the heroism of fans that jumped into action during the structural collapse at the Morbid Angel show

Photographer Justin Nuoffer recounts the heroism of fans that jumped into action during the structural collapse at the Morbid Angel show

- By Ramon Gonzales

The Knotfest contributor was among the concertgoers helping to remove debris and account for people injured during the tragedy.

Morbid Angel, Revocation, Crypta and Skeletal Remains were scheduled to perform at the Apollo Theatre in Belvidere, IL March 31st. However, severe weather in the region is being cited as the reason for a tragic structural collapse that took place during the evening’s performances.

The Apollo Theatre was hit by a EF-1 tornado which caused the venue's marquee to come down and caused significant structural damage to the building. The horrific scene was made worse as dozens of victims were taken from the venue by emergency personnel with serious injuries. Tragically, the event claimed the live of Fred Livingston Jr.

Knotfest contributing photographer Justin Nuoffer was among those on-hand for the show and would unknowingly be called into action that night. He was among the few dozen of fans that quickly began helping remove debris to help pull trapped patrons to safety.

As a testament to those that selflessly reacted to save lives, Nuoffer has penned a first-hand account of the events leading up to the storm, the proactive approach of The Apollo Theatre staff and the sense of community that was reiterated among metalheads during an irreversibly traumatic event.

The PRP has collected all of the GodFundMe links that are currently active for the victims that were gravely injured this weekend. Some of the victims will be facing long recovery times, of which will create a significant financial impact. Fans are encourage to donate if they can.

See the published GoFundMe links - HERE

Read Justin Nuoffer's account of this weekend below.

I'm still processing everything so bear with me. This is being pieced together over time. 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 when the front walls started shaking. 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. It is March in the Upper Midwest. Snow happens, not severe thunderstorms this time of year.

It started to.get loud - the noise was almost deafening. No tornado sirens were going off despite the fact that the city is reporting otherwise. 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 still no sirens going off.

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 immediately, so I backed down the little ramp and headed toward the bathroom but that 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 door, I then looked up and saw bright flashing light through the door to the main floor.

Later on, after everything, I realized it was lightning from the opening above. Then 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 and 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 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.

More people came to lift or were tending to injured folks already pulled out. Roughly 20-25 concertgoers lifted a major portion of the collapse marquee and pulled out debris from underneath our feet. A police officer ran in between myself and another fan. He dove underneath the massive roof chunk. Before he started digging in he turned to us and said, "Please, do not drop this."

We responded with a collective, "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.

I took a second 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.

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. 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. 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.

My last stop 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 -a 'what the hell' look. I turned to the young woman holding the mans 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 looked back at the 3 injured people and they had people with them. So I 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 and walked up to the promoter. I asked Tyler where I can help. 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 its long pry bars helping support some of its weight. The fire department was underneath digging with their crowbars and Jaws. As I held up my portion, firemen were crawling in under our legs and throwing debris out the same way. Off to my right at the same time, they found a young woman underneath a roof board that no one knew was there. At that point, I realized I didn't even know where the floor was. Later I realized I never stood on it all. Anywhere in the room. I was on the roofing and plaster.

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 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. 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 hugs.

Our shock was starting to kick in. We witnessed a horrific act of nature. The aforementioned man was the first person I wound up hugging. I said to him and he stood there crying, "We need to hug". It might have been one of the most emotional moments I have experienced 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. 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 was already gone as well. I already knew there were a lot of serious injuries, but then the impact of what just happened started to float into my head.

EMTs had, at that point, 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.The stage was still set up and now 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 and blood. It felt like a ghost town.

As I walked through the front wall, I saw that the roof flew across the street and a blue car was crushed underneath it. 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. Every type of emergency personnel you could imagine filled the streets and entered the building. As I walked past the marquee I walked next to the parking lot. I saw Crypta's tour bus was crushed by the bricks that dropped from high above.

I saw the fire department flashing lights 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, the marquee fell. When the roof came off the upper building the bricks became destabilized and fell onto the roof that collapsed. I realized it was exactly what I saw inside the building and on the floor. Red bricks.

You always see things and wonder what you would do. I know what I did to try and help. 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. The 30-35 people that stayed behind instead of running towards safety and helping those in need, we instrumental in saving lives. 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 human are what mattered during the worst of times.

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.

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