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Local youth circus performer not hurt in riser collapse

Woodbury resident Jillian Messina said she wasn't performing or in the risers when they collapsed during an Aug. 19 show at Circus Juventas in St. Paul.

Jillian Messina has been an active member of the St. Paul-based youth circus school, Circus Juventas, as a contortionist for the last two years, but as of Aug. 19 that has changed.

On Aug. 16, at around 10 p.m., during Circus Juventas' final performance of their sold out summer show the risers holding more than 400 people collapsed. Seven people were taken to the hospital for injuries. No one was severely injured.

City officials ordered the school to be closed on Aug. 19 until inspections can be made into the accident and the structure.

Fortunately for Messina, she was not in attendance at the show since she had already performed earlier in day.

"I couldn't believe it honestly," she said. "I don't know how bad it was since I didn't see it, but I heard everyone was freaked out and just started jumping into the crowd to try and help everyone."

It was later discovered by city officials that the risers were far overdue for inspection since part of their lease agreement is to have the risers inspected by city officials every time they are set up.

The youth circus has been leasing parkland in the Highland Park neighborhood since 1997.

Even though the reports state that Circus Juventas was in violation for not having the risers inspected, Messina said the Circus Juventas owners, Dan and Betty Butler, have always been very cautious when it comes to everyone's safety, and this seemed to be just a fluke accident.

"I felt so sorry for them because I know they work so hard since ensuring everyone's safety is their number one concern," she said. "I know they're probably just heartbroken about this.

"It's not something that would normally happen -- it was a crazy, random, weird accident."

Messina said she is disappointed in the closure of the school since it is something that she enjoys greatly and hopefully they are able to reopen by Sept. 14 in time for fall classes.

"I hope they get everything done soon so we can go back in the fall," she said. "I just hope this doesn't prevent people from coming to the shows because this type of thing is not likely to happen again."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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