City in Shock

Honoring the Lessons and Legacy of the Hyatt Skywalk Collapse

Louise C. Large-Gurin

first responders

Raymore, Mo. 64083

On the evening the skywalks collapsed I was on duty as a K.C. Mo. Police Officer. I was riding the downtown area as radio 112. It was a quiet evening, there were not so many things for people to do downtown then. I was sitting at about 10th and Central talking with a friend, Harry Gurin, who was a motorcycle officer. ( He is now my husband.) The dispatcher for the traffic cars came on the radio and asked for any traffic officers in the vicinity of the Hyatt Regency. She said they had received reports of a scaffolding that had fallen at that location. Harry volunteered to make the call. I told him I would follow him up there to see what was going on. As we were headed that way I heard the dispatcher on Center Zone (my assigned station) call cars to respond to the same location on the same call. As we pulled up in front I saw the front window was gone. There was a short wall, about 2 feet high below where the glass had been. Pink water was rushing out over the top of the wall. I got on the radio and called my dispatcher and told her to hold me out with the officers. I told her this was a major incident not just a scaffolding that had fallen. I told her we needed all the officers we could get and fire and ambulances. I told her I thought they should let the Captain and the Major know. I then said I was going into the scene. I don't know where Harry went. There was mass chaos, many people were running around but not to any particular place. It was eerily quiet except for screams here and there. It kind of reminded me of when someone disturbs an ant hill and the ants start running all over. I walked toward the building not sure where to start when I saw a boy and girl, about 12 and 14, together crying. They looked very lost and terrified. I stopped them and asked them if I could help them. They said they could not find their mom and dad. I told them that I needed them to help me. At first they shook there heads no. I explained that with everyone running around it would be easier to find their parents if they stayed in one place. I also told them there were many injured people and I needed help in triaging them by the seriousness of their injuries. We were standing by a circular planter with a tree in it. I asked them to stay right by this wall and I would send them the least injured people there. I told them they were to try to keep them in that place to locate people they were with and to talk to them and help them calm down. I would try to locate their parents as I worked through the people. They agreed to do this. I never saw them again but truly hoped they would find their parents okay. I worked my way towards the building trying to triage injures sending them to different places to stay and wait for help. There is a blank in time for me where I then only remember details from here and there. By now there were many emergency personnel at the scene. I had no idea how long I had been there but another officer who had been working by me said we had been moving bodies to the makeshift morgue for about 3 hours. I remember the first person I tried to move. It was a lady dressed in a pink double knit pant suit with kind of a silky white blouse. She was bent in half with her legs folded under her. Her left arm was around the back of the man next to her. I tried to pick her up with my arms around her chest but I could not hold onto her. Another officer came over to help me move her. I then realized there were alot of people running around behind us looking for lost friends and relatives. I didn't want family to see her like this so I took her jacket from the back and pulled it up over her face. I picked her up and held her as close as I could to me while the other officer got her pant legs and we carried her to the morgue. When we walked into the morgue there were rows of bodies covered with sheets and bed spreads, I guessed they were from the hotel. Some people were putting toe tags on the bodies. Detectives and probably others were trying to indentify people. I went back out to get the next person, I think it was the man lying next to the lady in the pink pant suit. I don't remember the others, it was just moving one after another. I remember thinking later that it was odd that pink water was coming out of the building. Someone told me there was a four inch water pipe near the back of the room that had broken. I remember people talking about a guy who was trapped by his leg. I heard them say the firemen were bringing in a saw to cut his leg off. They said Dr. Wackerle had talked to him. If they left the guy there he would die from shock. If they cut his leg off at least he had a chance. I had met Dr. Wackerle several times in the Emergency room at Truman Medical Center. I remembered that some of the other policemen had told me that Dr. Wackerle had done a couple of tours in Vietnam, if you got hurt really bad he's the guy you'd want to work on you. I guessed the guy was in the best hands he could be so I just prayed for him. I don't think he made it. Someone told me to go take a break. The Salvation Army was there as they usually were when something big was going on. They always took good care of us. I wasn't very hungry, I had an apple and a bottle of water. As I was walking back toward the building I saw a fireman I knew from some other calls we had made together. His name was John Tjveten Jr. He was sitting on a wall crying and a couple other fireman had their arms around him, holding him. I walked over that way and asked another firefighter what had happened. He said that John's dad had come to the dance that evening and they had just found his body. I felt really bad for John. ( several years later John died in a fire in a warehouse) I also remember that Belger Cartage brought in a huge crane that they were going to use to try to move the concrete slabs. I think it was around that time that I was relieved from duty. I went back to the station but I don't remember that or driving home or going to bed. I will always remember what I saw and the strong smell of blood. I do remember the next day when I went to get up I could hardly move my body. I think I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I sometimes think about that day and all those people. I still wonder about those two kids.

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Kansas City Star Books presents a commemorative book exploring the skywalks disaster and the lessons learned. Royalties from the book benefit the Skywalk Memorial Foundation’s efforts to build a permanent memorial. Order your copy