Son says he watched roof crush father when tornado hit Belvidere theater during concert
The National Weather Service said Saturday it was indeed a tornado that struck a Belvidere theater where a roof collapsed and killed a 50-year-old man during a rock concert Friday night.
Officials said Saturday more than 40 were also hurt as a result of the roof and marquee collapse, at least four critically.
ABC 7 Chicago identified the man as Frederick Forest Livingston Jr., citing family members. A hometown was not given. Livingston's sister, Deana Hicks, said he was attending the concert at the theater with his son Alex, who Hicks said is "OK."
Alex said he was standing right next to his father when the roof collapsed and crushed him during the concert at the Apollo Theatre.
"I couldn't save him," Alex said.
Hicks described Livingston as a car and heavy metal enthusiast.
"Fred was a son, brother, father, uncle and grandpa," she said in a statement to ABC News. "... Fred had a big heart and cared for others deeply. Please keep all of Fred's family and friends in your thoughts. Please respect our privacy."
Some of the 260 people attending the heavy metal concert had pulled the man from the rubble after the roof collapsed near the front of the stage; he was dead when emergency workers arrived, officials said.
"They dragged someone out from the rubble, and I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him), 'It's going to be OK.' I didn't really know much else what to do," concertgoer Gabrielle Lewellyn told WTVO-TV.
Among the more than 40 hurt, Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said, two people suffered life-threatening injuries, and two others were seriously injured. Everyone who was inside the theater has been accounted for.
In addition to the critically wounded, 18 suffered moderate injuries and another five transported by ambulance suffered minor injuries, Schadle said.
The National Weather Service said in a preliminary summary that an EF-1 tornado, with peak winds of 100 mph, had traveled nearly 28 miles over 25 minutes. It started southwest of Rockford at 7:24 p.m. and moved northeast, missing Cherry Valley but then traveling through the center of Belvidere.
Schadle said first responders were on the scene of the collapse within two minutes, as the fire station is just down the street. Ambulances were called to the scene from multiple departments, including from McHenry County. Many made multiple trips, Schadle said.
Belvidere Police Chief Shane Woody on Friday had described the scene after the collapse as "chaos, absolute chaos."
Officials said it is unclear if the roof caved in or if it was torn off.
Tornado sirens went off in downtown Belvidere at 7:24 p.m., 23 minutes before the roof collapsed, said Boone County Emergency Management Director Dan Zaccard, but it was unknown whether those at the concert had heard or responded to the siren.
Officials said the fast response by concertgoers and first responders had prevented a worse tragedy.
"If it wasn't for their quick actions, and the fact that they were planning for this storm and were prepared, things could've looked a lot different today," Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau said.
Belvidere Mayor Clint Morris said having a the fire station a block away helped first responders arrive at the scene within minutes and triage and transport the wounded as quickly as possible.
"If we have to endure a tragic event like this, it's probably the best circumstances we could have had," Morris said.
He said Gov. J.B. Pritzker called him and vowed to help the community. The governor had tweeted Friday night that his administration is closely monitoring the situation and is in touch with local officials.
Video of the aftermath showed concertgoers struggling to lift the wreckage off other attendees. Lewellyn had just entered the theater when a portion of the ceiling collapsed.
"I was there within a minute before it came down," she told WTVO-TV. "The winds, when I was walking up to the building, it went like from zero to a thousand within five seconds."
Samuel Reed and Ethan Anderson, both 14, said they were at home Friday night when tornado sirens started blaring and news of the terror at the theater spread. They both came down to State Street to survey the wreckage. It was bedlam, Anderson said.
"The streets were flooded with EMS from all over the area and nearby towns," Reed said.
"It's a miracle that more people didn't die, that it was just one person who died and may they rest in peace," Reed said. "It's truly a tragedy. This will hopefully bring our town together."
Dozens of residents gathered Saturday morning to watch construction crews navigate the rubble around the century-old Apollo, where the crumpled marquee had crashed into the sidewalk, part of the roof lying in the middle of the street.
Officials said the theater's owner was distraught. Morris said the Apollo is a 100-year-old building that has sat vacant at times, but it was recently bought and renovated.
"It is significant with our downtown history," he said. "I guess when you think about what it means to the city, we would like to have that. It's a landmark. In a way it's kind of like the city's brand."
Across and down the street from the Apollo stands a mural with an oversized black-and-white photograph of schoolchildren battling strong winds and rain after an especially violent tornado ravaged the rural town on April 21, 1967, killing 24.
The Apollo was a go-to spot in the city, said resident Dave Weiner, 54. The former movie theater had become a popular spot for quinceañera celebrations and all-ages concerts, including the Friday night show.
"It's one of the only things for the youth to do in town; now it's gone," Weiner said.
The theater's destruction is a blow to Belvidere, a city of 25,000 people that is facing stiff economic challenges after a Jeep assembly plant went dark earlier this month.
"The people who owned it put a lot of time and money into it. It was good for the community," said resident Bob Flynn. "Now it'll be like a ghost town."
The bands scheduled to perform in the concert were Morbid Angel, Crypta, Skeletal Remains and Revocation.
On their Facebook page, Morbid Angel wrote that their show had been "canceled due to a tornado that hit the venue, and caused the roof, over the area in-front of the stage, and marquee to collapse."
The members of Crypta posted that "WE ARE ALIVE & SAFE ... ALL THE TOUR BANDS ARE SAFE AND WELL!" The band added that they had "lost our motor home" in the destruction.
"Our hearts go out to anybody in the crowd who were injured," the members of Skeletal Remains wrote.
• ABC 7 Chicago, The Associated Press, The Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report.