A father trying to protect his 6-year-old daughter when a big top tent gave way during a circus performance Monday in New Hampshire was fatally struck by a flying pole, his heartbroken son said.
"The beam came down on top of my father — crushed his skull," Jonathan Young, who was at work when the accident occurred at 5:30 p.m., told NBC affiliate WHDH on Tuesday.
"He was protecting my little sister, Annabelle, at the time," Young added, choking back tears. "Unfortunately, she didn't make it as well."
Robert Young, 41, and daughter Annabelle, of Concord, Vermont, were identified Tuesday as the two fatalities at the Lancaster Fairgrounds, about 90 miles north of Concord. Robert Young's wife and another daughter who were also in the audience were unharmed.
Jonathan Young said his family recounted the "panic and chaos" as severe weather forced the red- and yellow-striped tent to collapse, pinning dozens of people underneath. Despite earlier concerns about the weather, workers with the Walker Brothers International Circus continued on with the show.
Fire officials are investigating why the tent failed as 60 mph winds blew across the fairgrounds.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said Walker Brothers International did not have the proper "place of assembly" permit to hold the show and were investigating whether they are criminally culpable. Officials are also determining if the group heeded weather warnings. Forecasts called for severe storms and hail.
"Their responsibility is for the safety of their guests," Degnan said. "Whether they knew or not that the storm was coming, we’ll be looking into that."
About 32 people among the 100 guests had to be hospitalized, fire officials said.
"To me it didn't seem like anything was down tight because (the stakes) came up quick," said Meagan Marion, who was at the event with her 9-year-old son, Trevor, and her mother. "It didn't even seem like they were in the ground."
The injured included Marion's mom, who suffered a head injury when a pole slammed into her, her family said.
"She didn’t move nothing," Marion told NBC News. "Her eyes were rolled in the back of her head. It was scary."
After Marion found her mother, she feared the worst. But her mother was breathing and remains hospitalized at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and is in a neck brace. She won't be able to return to work for two months, Marion said.
The event has traumatized the family. Marion said she saw Annabelle's body behind her alongside a man later identified as the girl's father.
"I’ll never go to a circus again," Marion said.