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Interview With Henry Wischerath, Kara Wischerath

Aired June 30, 2003 - 19:06   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, ANCHOR: Moving on, a Saturday night party turned into Sunday morning terror in Chicago. And tonight, people are still wondering how it could have happened.
Several dozen people were spread out over a two-level three-story high wooden porch when it collapsed early Sunday. Twelve people died, 57 others were injured.

After a preliminary check, officials say the porch was structurally sound.

Chicago bureau chief Jeff Flock with more now on the search for answers and on the lives lost in a terrifying incident.


PATRICK LUPTON, VICTIM'S FATHER: This is her as a baby. This is Erica and her at the Cubs game.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A father recounts one life...

LUPTON: This is in college.

FLOCK: ... his first born.

(on camera) She got a varsity letter as a freshman?


FLOCK: It seems like she was just an achiever in everything.


FLOCK (voice-over): Eileen Lupton, 22, with her best friend, the kids she babysat for, her varsity letters, everything on her bulletin board when she left for the party Saturday night.

One of 12 young lives literally crushed just as they were getting started.

LUPTON: What it is is a beautiful plant that you nurture and love and spend time with and talk to and then this beautiful flower emerges. The sadness, of course, is that that flower is gone now.

FLOCK: Many at the party were from prestigious New Trier High School outside Chicago. Twenty-five-year-old Julie Sorkin went on to get a master's in social work and, hours before the disaster, signed a contract to buy a house with her fiance.

Nineteen-year-old Shea Fitzgerald had been an all-state football player in New Trier. His best friend, Sam Farmer, graduated from there, too, and was a sophomore at the University of Arizona.

REV. EDWARD PREVOST, CHRIST CHURCH: Ironically, he was doing all of those "safe" things that parents teach you, you know. He took the train down to this party because he didn't want to be -- he turned 21 last January and he didn't want to be drinking and driving and his parents didn't want him to. So he thought he was doing the safe thing.

FLOCK: Eileen Lupton thought she was, too.

LUPTON: The tragedy that affects me the most is she was such a beautiful person. And I know she wouldn't -- you know, there would be that day when I could walk her down the aisle. And that day when she would grace us with kids. But that's all gone.


FLOCK: Anderson, you are looking at a live picture of Eileen Lupton on one of the crosses that a man made and brought here to the scene today. It is all the more appropriate since her father tells me that Eileen's faith was particularly strong. He says it is that faith that is carrying him through right now.

And I want to express my thanks to him and the Lupton family for sharing so much with us today -- Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Jeff, I understand preliminary tests showed that this was structurally sound. How can that be?

FLOCK: It can be if, in fact, it can be demonstrated that the porch was as good as it should have been and that the problem was that there were simply too many people on it. Certainly, if a porch can be constructed, but if an unreasonable load is placed on it, and that is the reason it collapses, then perhaps no one is to fault except for all the people that climbed aboard it.

COOPER: All right, understood. Jeff Flock, thank very much.

And the people at the Chicago party were celebrating the beginning of summer. Well, now family members are left to deal with the loss of their loved ones.

Henry Wischerath Jr., or Jay, was one of those killed. He had a final law school paper due on Monday and he wasn't going to go out on Saturday night. But at the last minute, he changed his mind.

His father, Henry Sr., got a phone call early Sunday morning, informing him of the terrible news. Henry Wischerath and his daughter, Kara, join us now from Buffalo, New York.

I appreciate both you being us. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Henry, that phone call, what did they say?

HENRY WISCHERATH, FATHER OF VICTIM: I got a call around 7:15 Sunday morning from a Lieutenant McGarrity (ph) from the Chicago Police Department. And he said that -- "I'm from the Chicago Police Department, and I have terrible news."

And I was hoping against hope that my son was just in the hospital. And because your mind races real quick. I had a feeling that he wasn't in the hospital. If he was in the hospital, the hospital would have been calling me. And I just knew he was dead. And the lieutenant confirmed that, you know, my thoughts.

COOPER: Kara, how are you doing?

KARA WISCHERATH, SISTER OF VICTIM: As good as I can be. We're in shock. We have wonderful family and friends supporting us. And faith.

COOPER: Henry, tell us about your son. What was he like?

H. WISCHERATH: Jay was a very studious youth. As a young kid, he was able to do puzzles and I don't mean little puzzles. I remember as a 2-year-old, he was able to put the 50 states into order in about, you know, 30 seconds or so. Four- and 5-year-old kids in the neighborhood couldn't do it that fast.

COOPER: I'm not sure I could do it now to be honest.

H. WISCHERATH: I always had trouble. Texas I can usually get. But not some of the other ones.

COOPER: And he traveled across country, didn't he?


COOPER: And he went to ballparks, didn't he, Kara?

K. WISCHERATH: Yes. He loved traveling, loved baseball. He played ball at the Chesham (ph) Park in our neighborhood for 16 years.

H. WISCHERATH: He did take a trip across the United States with three other friends. And they just had a marvelous trip. They went from Cleveland to Chicago to Milwaukee to Minnesota to Denver and then to San Francisco and up to Seattle. Then they went north and went up Vancouver and then came back across Canada to come back into Buffalo.

COOPER: Is -- the funeral, I understand, is going to be on Thursday. Is that right?


H. WISCHERATH: That is correct.

COOPER: at this point, do you feel angry? Do you feel someone is responsible? How do you look at this? H. WISCHERATH: I don't know if people are responsible for it. You know, we can say, well, we had 50 or 40 or 35 or 60 kids on a deck. You can say that, OK, the deck was structurally sound, or maybe it wasn't structurally sound.

What I can't understand and I don't live in Chicago, I don't know what it's like there, why they had these decks built anyway when they know they're going to rent them to students.

K. WISCHERATH: Who are going to be having parties and -- you can't blame...

H. WISCHERATH: It doesn't make sense to me why you build these decks anyways. If you want to have a nice deck for an older couple or a yuppie couple, you could have a nice, small deck that holds three or four people.

Why do you have to do have a deck that holds 20 people? I don't understand.

K. WISCHERATH: And the other main question that I'm puzzled with, and I know everyone close to me is why the porches were torn down within 24 hours of the tragedy. I don't understand why. Or how.

COOPER: I think there are a lot of questions at this point which a lot of people would like answers to. And Henry, Kara, I appreciate you coming in. I mean, I can't imagine how tough it is. But I appreciate you coming in and giving us memories of your son and your brother. Thank you very much.

H. WISCHERATH: Thank you.

K. WISCHERATH: thank you.


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