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Hundreds Attend Minnehaha Academy Vigil

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- In a chapel overflowing with people and grief, hundreds gathered for a service they didn't expect to attend at Minnehaha Academy Lower School.

They prayed over a tragedy they never could have dreamed; a nightmare that is now a reality for the Minnehaha Academy family.

"It has been a terrible day, and we can be honest about that right here," said Pastor Matt Kennedy.

Minnehaha Academy Vigil
(credit: CBS)

Hours earlier, an explosion rocked Minnehaha Academy Upper School. A large portion of the building collapsed down through the basement.

Two employees, Ruth Berg and John Carlson, did not survive. Several more were injured, one critically.

"Just really surprising to see something like that happen so close, somewhere where I went every single day for four years," said recent graduate Ryler McDowall.

He came to the vigil to pray for Berg, the Upper School's receptionist for 17 years. He prayed the other victims hurt and still fighting for their lives, and custodian Carlson.

Explosion At Minnehaha Academy
The aftermath of the explosion (credit: CBS)

McDowell said he had fond memories of his interactions with man affectionately named "John the Janitor."

"I remember so many times I'd be sitting there studying for a test, hoping I'd pass. [Carlson would] pat me on the shoulder, come over, smile, give me a Dilly Bar, give me a little reassuring advice," McDowall said.

Stories like that were shared among capacity crowd at the vigil. Despite the deep sadness, they also felt gratitude for the people that rushed to the scene to help.

"Thanks to the first responders who did wonderful work in responding to the needs of the community," said Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris.

Their reliance on first responders will continue, as well as their faith to help them during this difficult time.

"We're going to get through it," Harris said. "We trust God. He is a mighty, mighty, mighty God."

Ruth Berg and John Carlson
(credit: CBS)

As the prayer service wrapped up, an emotional reminder was waiting outside for several students and staff.

Friends of staff had coolers filled with Dilly Bars to honor Carlson, which they handed out to students and staff from the school.

The mere sight of the ice cream bars brought some students to tears. Others bonded over stories of Carlson as they enjoyed the sweet treat he was so eager to share.

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