I stand at a green wire fence. Its metal rungs are filled with roses that contrast sharply against the harsh scene of destruction looming in the background. The hole in the red brick building smokes silently. Reporters and news crews are lined up along 46th street, capturing each second of heartbreak. As the day of August 2, 2017, continues to flood with loss, news footage, shock and hope, the deeper stories of those who survived the tragedy remain untold, at least for now.
On August 2, 2017, a natural gas explosion took place at Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, killing two and injuring nine. This tragedy became the center of my year as Editor-in-Chief of Minnehaha’s newspaper, The Talon, and has changed the way I understand journalism. After listening to an interview I conducted in 2016 with John Carlson, a school custodian who died in the blast, I was reminded how vital it is to document unheard stories, and how much meaning these stories can hold. I was inspired to create a simple podcast series called “August 2 Stories” to document the experiences of survivors of the explosion. Starting in November 2017 and ending this June, I produced eleven episodes ranging from 5 to 30 minutes long, interviewing a total of 16 people. I was continually surprised and honored by the deep ways individuals in our community opened up to me, sharing chilling moments of 911 calls and cries for help, along with tearful reunions and hope.
Though it would seem natural to take a more questioning, direct approach to interviewing the individuals who survived the explosion in the hopes of hearing significant details, I instead chose to take a quieter approach. With each interview, I focused on listening with empathy, asking minimal questions and allowing the individual to tell their story the way it came most naturally. My adviser, Reid Westrem, said, “I have never heard these people, who are my colleagues, speak so personally and so vulnerably, before this.” Oftentimes, listening to the interviews during editing would move me to tears. I am honored to have gotten to undertake this project and feel blessed by the ways in which individuals in our Minnehaha community have trusted me with deeply personal experiences of loss, heartbreak, fear and hope.
August 2 Stories #1 Don DuBois – A hero who tried to save others
This episode features Maintenance Manager Don DuBois, who ran through the north campus building warning others to get out. DuBois used his walkie to tell others about the gas leak, and his wife, Laura, was among those who heard his cries over the radio. He has since been called a hero by news media and members of the Minnehaha community, though he said, “I don’t consider myself a hero. It’s just part of the job.” This interview was recorded on September 28, 2017.
August 2 Stories #4 Donna Harris – Minnehaha’s president wondered if this was how she would die
This episode features Minnehaha Academy President Dr. Donna Harris, who was thrown to her office floor when the explosion happened and then escaped through her window onto the roof. For Harris, it started as a normal day at work and ended with her wondering if she was going to die. Harris talked about what it was like to say goodbye to her husband on the way to work that morning. “[My husband] grabbed me and he said, ‘We are going to kiss goodbye because this might be the last time I see you,’” said Harris. “He never says things like that, and I remember getting in my car and feeling a sense of foreboding.” This interview was recorded on December 4, 2017.
August 2 Stories #5 Kristin Overton – If she had chosen differently, her life and her baby’s would have ended
Minnehaha college and guidance counselor Kristen Overton was in her office meeting with a student when the explosion happened, and was pregnant at the time. However, Overton had planned on going to the bathroom before the meeting; if she had made that choice she would have died, along with her unborn baby. In her interview, she recalled that her memories from the moment of the blast are in black and white. “I don’t remember seeing color, which is a really strange thing,” said Overton. “My memory is completely in black and white.” Overton has since delivered a healthy baby boy. This interview was recorded on December 5, 2017.
August 2 Stories #9 Dave Cairns – 2013 Boston Marathon bombing survivor runs into blast site to help those in need
This episode features Minnehaha parent and Executive Director of Covenant Pines Ministries, Dave Cairns. Cairns was in his office in the Northwest Conference house when the explosion happened. “I yelled, ‘Call 911!’ then ran out the back door towards the school,” said Cairns. “It was kind of crazy. As I approached it, you couldn’t see anything, there was just a cloud of smoke, debris coming down. It was like walking into a fog.” After being at the finish line when the Boston Marathon bombing took place in 2013, Cairns already had experience with intense situations and launched into looking for survivors and helping in any way he could. This interview was recorded on March 19, 2018.
August 2 Stories #10 Laura DuBois – A wife reunited with her husband after hearing his desperate warnings of a gas leak
This episode features Minnehaha chef Laura DuBois, wife of Don DuBois (featured in episode 1). Laura was in the school kitchen when her husband Don called over the radio that there was a gas leak and that they needed to get out. Laura escaped the building about ten seconds before it exploded. After a long thirty minutes of not knowing if her husband was well, she was reunited with Don. “I remember laying in bed with Donnie that night, and he looked at me and he said…’I’m so sorry that I scared you by running back in that building,’” said DuBois. “And I looked at him and I said, ‘Honey, I wouldn’t have expected anything different from you.’” This interview was recorded on May 11, 2018 and was honored as a winner of the 2018 New York Times student podcast contest.