updated 12/18/2008 7:21:22 PM ET 2008-12-19T00:21:22

An actor in a Christmas pageant who was suspended 25 feet in the air by an overhead rope fell headfirst onto a concrete church floor and died, authorities said Thursday.

Keri Shryock, 23, and two other actors were playing wise men on their way to Bethlehem in Wednesday night's opening performance at Crossroads Community Church.

The three actors were approaching a star when Shryock fell into an aisle in the audience portion of the theater, witnesses told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

"Toward the ending of the song she came loose," Daniel Doepke, 55, of Middletown, told the newspaper. "I can't describe how heart-wrenching it was, her fall to a hard concrete surface."

Shryock was taken to University Hospital, where she died Thursday morning. A hospital spokesman declined to describe her injuries.

Actor graduated from college this year
Cincinnati police were assisting the Hamilton County coroner in an investigation, a police spokeswoman said.

There was no immediate explanation of how the accident occurred, or if there was an equipment failure.

"Our prayers and heartfelt sympathies go out to her family during this incredibly difficult time," the church said in a statement. "We are shocked and deeply grieved by this tragic accident."

Shryock, from Sylvania, Ohio, near Toledo, graduated from Bowling Green State University this year.

Melissa Davish, a friend and former gymnastics club teammate at Bowling Green, said Shryock had become a surprisingly good gymnast since taking up the sport only two years ago and was excited about performing the rope act.

"She wasn't scared of anything," Davish said. "It's a strange coincidence. I can see her saying, 'I'm a gymnast, I can do that.' She was really excited about doing something that unique."

No one involved with the production would be available to talk about the staging, which the church characterized as a contemporary Nativity story, said church spokesman Matt Chandler.

"It was a figurative and artistic version of the Christmas story found in the book of Luke," he said.

Remaining performances cancelled
Ten remaining performances of the show "Awaited" were canceled. The nondenominational church planned an evening of prayer, reflection and worship Thursday night to "to provide everyone involved with space to continue in the grieving process," the statement said.

The church also planned to provide grief counseling for those who witnessed the fall.

The mega-church was founded in 1996 and has grown to a membership of about 10,000, Chandler said. It is known for dramatic and musical presentations at weekend services.

The church's Web site said "Awaited" was seen by more than 20,000 people when it first was presented last year.

Shryock was employed as an assistant in the Office of Commuter Services and Off Campus Living at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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