A moment of curiosity led three Oklahoma City girls through a normally locked school door into an elevator shaft where they were nearly crushed, the girls said Thursday.
Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said the door to the older, lift-style elevator at Classen School of Advanced Studies shouldn't have been open or unlocked Tuesday when the girls were trapped around 11 a.m. The door was apparently slightly ajar and wasn't closing properly, Springer said.
A work order that would have fixed the problem was on file, but hadn't been completed. Springer said a third-party contractor will be looking at the elevator as well as the district's work order process to determine what went wrong.
District officials are also trying to find out why the elevator missed its required annual inspections in 2010 and 2011, a situation Springer called "unacceptable."
School officials don't blame the girls, who opened the door after a friend told them there was something cool to see inside.
“If they're guilty of anything, they may be guilty of curiosity,” he said. “It's not their fault.”
The three girls spoke about their ordeal Thursday just as the last of them was released from OU Medical Center.
Liz Smith, a sixth-grader, and seventh-graders Ambri Tygard and Savanna Gable, said they've been friends since the beginning of the school year and had no idea that walking into the elevator shaft would put their lives in danger.
“We walked in and the door closed behind us, and the elevator started coming down,” Liz said.
Springer said a fourth girl closed the door just before the elevator descended, which automatically locks the door.
The girls started screaming for help. As the elevator kept coming down, they tried to push against it hoping it would stop.
“Right when it was coming down, and we tried to push up and it didn't stop, I knew I needed to call 911,” Savanna said.
City officials released a recording of Savanna's 911 call Wednesday. She can be heard trying to tell the dispatcher where they are as Ambri screams for help in the background.
“The scream was mine,” Ambri said. “At first, when the elevator was coming down, I thought I was really going to die. After it smashed me, I realized we were going to be OK, but I was in a lot of pain.”
By the time the dispatcher answered the phone, the girls were lying on their backs overlapping each other as they tried to hold the elevator off.
Bars on the bottom of the elevator pressed against them. Ambri got the worst of it. A bar pressed into her left hip. She also injured two disks in her back as she pushed with all her strength against the elevator, leaving one of her legs temporarily numb.
Savanna's right foot was injured. Her leather boot was wedged between the elevator and the wall. The pressure left a dent in the back of the boot.
“My toes were really kind of crushed and bruised, and it's hard to walk,” Savanna said. “I was imagining a happy place.”
The girls waited 45 minutes as firefighters and an elevator technician worked to free them. Liz said she couldn't hold down her lunch.
“It was terrifying, so I was really nervous,” Liz said. “It was pressing down on my stomach, which helped too. And then it was also a tight, compacted space.”
Liz credited Savanna for keeping her calm.
“Savanna kept saying, ‘we're going to live, Liz. We're going to be OK,'” Liz said.
The girls said it was a relief when the elevator was finally raised off them, but the pressure was so great that they had trouble breathing for at least an hour afterward.
Springer said the district will take steps to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.
In addition to looking at the elevator at Classen SAS, Springer said district officials are also examining elevators at other schools in the district.
At first, when the elevator was coming down, I thought I was really going to die. After it smashed me, I realized we were going to be OK, but I was in a lot of pain.”