Garland, TX Roof Collapse, May 1978


Garland, Texas (UPI) -- The roof of a church collapsed under tons of rain water at the start of Sunday services, killing a 9-year-old girl as well as injuring 57 parishioners and three policemen rescuing survivors.
Two huge beams running the length of the sanctuary at the Walnut Village Church of Christ splintered first, opening a seam down the middle of the flat roof.
Tons of water drenched the worshippers. Then beams, roofing and gravel came crashing down. The southwest corner of the roof collapsed about 15 minutes later, injuring the policemen.
"The water gushed in ... the debris was over our head," said CHARLES SAMS, 43. "People were grasping for anybody they could get ahold of. We literally walked out on the roof."
Police Chief JEFF YOUNGBLOOD told a news conference the sole fatality -- SHANNON SMITH, 9
-- died of head injuries.
Her father, JAMES TERRY SMITH, 31, was treated for minor injuries and released. Most young people were in the "Children's Church" in another part of the same building.
Youngblood said the injuries involved broken bones, lacerations, bruises and shock.
One of the injured -- JAMES FREEMAN, 31, a Dallas policeman -- was in critical condition with multiple fractures at Garland Memorial Hospital. Five others were in serious but stable condition at Garland Community Hospital.
Officials in this affluent Dallas suburb began an investigation of the disaster, but said the sanctuary, an addition to the main building, had passed a building inspection.
"We had had the opening song," said the church's pastor, Rev. Verner I. Ulrich, 35. "one of the elders
stood up to give the opening prayer and that's when it happened."
The elder, lay minister K. L. GRIFFIN, was at the podium starting his prayer, with all heads in the church bowed, when the roof cracked lengthwise in the middle and fell across two-thirds of the congregation of 175 persons. People began running from the building, and then a few minutes later the southwest corner of the roof fell in, hitting more people.
"There was a loud pop," GRIFFIN said. "Most of it fell in front of me and just covered the people up. Why couldn't it have been last night? or later? It couldn't have happened at a worse time."

Galveston Daily News Texas 1978-05-22