So-called rubberneckers flood banks near bridge collapse

“(It would be) nice if they would respect the investigation,” said one police officer.

by Diane White

With cameras and binoculars in hand, onlookers flooded the Stone Arch Bridge Monday afternoon to get a glimpse of the Interstate 35W bridge remains.

Some posed for family pictures with the wreckage in the background.

One family held an American flag and flowers for a photograph; others brought their young children and pets.

University psychology professor Patricia Frazier offered a few explanations for the motivation of people wanting to visit such a tragic scene.

“To me, it feels more like honoring (the victims),” Frazier said, deviating from what many are calling on-the-scene gawking.

She also said there’s a sense of curiosity and closure.

“(They) want to know exactly what happened. Ö The pictures don’t exactly do it,” Frazier said, adding her interpretation is opinion-based – she’s never researched the topic.

The closest an undergraduate psychology course gets to discussing major tragedy is within the realm of post-traumatic stress, she said, aside from the occasional May-term course tailored to a more specific subject.

Many people re-experience a traumatic event, like the bridge collapsing, in nightmares and daydreams, she said.

Others will avoid certain things, have a heightened sense of vulnerability and an impairment to function.

University math education sophomore Yashkumarie Premsukh described the confusion she felt after viewing the collapsed bridge for herself.

“It just hasn’t set in yet Ö I’ve been over that bridge so many times,” the commuter from Fridley said, standing on the Stone Arch Bridge with two friends Monday.

Another University student, Chi Nguyen, a psychology senior, said she felt that visiting the scene provided a healthy way for her and many others to cope.

Nguyen said she was also dealing with personal loss; members of her sister’s boyfriend’s family are on the list of those missing.

“It’s surreal to us right now,” she said, describing the lingering emotions felt while waiting for an answer. 

Minneapolis park police officer Danny Kagol said it’s hard to tell why people are at the scene.

“Some stare with disbelief in their faces,” he said.

With the recovery effort progressing, Kagol said the park’s patrolling force is back to normal shifts, though he said his department has been heavily involved with the tragedy.

“This is the busiest it will ever be,” Kagol said, adding that traffic on the Stone Arch Bridge is usually nonexistent on Mondays, especially in the late afternoon.

There have been few problems for the park force since the bridge’s reopening Sunday, Kagol said, adding he has only had to ask a few bicyclists to slow down.

The recent talk of people crossing Minneapolis police tape, attempting to get a closer view or find a souvenir saddened Kagol.

“I feel bad Ö (it would be) nice if they would respect the investigation,” he said.

Adam Brackney, a resident of the Stone Arch Apartments, said the word “disruption” is an understatement for how the gawkers have affected his life in the past few days.

“This is ridiculous Ö I wish they would all just leave,” Brackney said. “People are bringing their kids and coolers. They don’t care that people died.”

Brackney said he was home at the time the bridge collapsed and assisted in the rescue effort for about 30 minutes until rescue workers had the situation under control.

At the end of the road, a segment of the bridge lying over the train is visible.

“Now that the police are gone it has been insane,” Brackney said, adding he had to show his keys to get home earlier this week.

With all the media coverage of the scene, Brackney felt an up-close glance is unnecessary, a sentiment he shares with some members of the University community.

Across University Avenue, atop what’s left of 35W, a sign Monday read “Please stop gawking – go home – watch it on TV.”

Though University sociology professor Doug Hartmann sympathizes with those living near the collapsed bridge, he said the experience isn’t only affecting them.

“They don’t own the tragedy or the bridge,” he said, commenting on the message of the banner.

Hartmann said being at the scene gives Minnesotans a different perspective from those watching the coverage around the world and also time to reflect or make sense of what happened.

“People are finding their own personal connection Ö to what’s a big public event in our backyard,” he said.

He compared onlookers at the 35W bridge scene to those who visited former Sen. Paul Wellstone’s campaign headquarters after Wellstone died in a plane crash.

“People want to mourn outside of their homes, in the company of others,” Hartmann said. “In this case, it’s (at) a physical and geographical location.”

Many visiting the 35W bridge are parking near student housing between 10th and 12th Avenues along University Avenue and walking to St. Anthony Main.

University civil engineering student Sundeep Bhimireddy lives near where University Avenue crosses the 35W bridge.

He said things are getting better and attributed the desire of onlookers to curiosity and grief.

“Some people are very sad,” Bhimireddy said.