Minnehaha Academy marks 3 years since deadly explosion

Staff and students at Minnehaha Academy honored the anniversary of a deadly explosion at the school, in a remembrance ceremony Sunday.

It has been three years since the blast that killed two longtime employees of the private school in Minneapolis.

"It wasn’t easy but we have a faithful God who guided us through it and that’s the important thing to remember," said Sara Jacobson, the school’s executive director of institutional advancement.

Jacobson said she was one of about 35 people inside the school at the time of the explosion.

It happened at 10:22 a.m. on August 2, 2017, at the academy’s Upper School.

Jacobson was in a meeting on campus with several colleagues.

"He said, ‘We think there’s a gas leak. We need to go.’ I took three steps and that’s when I heard the loudest boom I’ve ever heard in my life," Jacobson said. "The building shook and the ceiling tiles fell down and the windows blew in. We all kind of ducked for cover and covered our heads."

The explosion happened when "a pipefitting crew disassembled piping upstream of a gas service meter," according to the final report released by the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB also reported the two contractors working on the piping at the school were not qualified to work on that section of piping.

NTSB: Movement of gas meter by unqualified workers ‘probable cause’ of Minnehaha Academy explosion

Receptionist Ruth Berg and custodian John Carlson were killed. Nine others were hospitalized. Jacobson said everyone else at the school at the time suffered concussions.

Following the explosion, Upper School students were relocated to Mendota Heights for two years. The Upper School was rebuilt and reopened to students in the fall of 2019.

The new school includes several tributes to Berg and Carlson, including a stained glass window and memorial benches.

"I believe our journey as a school community during these past three years would make John and Ruth, who loved this school so much, would make them so proud," said Dr. Donna Harris, the school’s president.

Students and staff honored the three-year anniversary in a virtual ceremony, joining together in prayer and reflecting on the lives lost.

"I see the spirit of John when people are excited to be at Minnehaha. He loved Minnehaha," Jacobson said. "Ruth had such a kind heart. She was willing to do anything for anyone and so I see that whenever I see students helping each other."

School leaders said it is important to acknowledge the tragedy each year and "keep the faith" moving forward.

"It’s just important that we continue to be mindful remembering our past," said Upper School Principal Mike DiNardo. "The explosion was a very difficult time but it prepared us well for other challenges that we have to deal with. As a school community, we are really resilient."