Circus elephants get loose, damage vehicles at Family Arena

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ST. CHARLES, MO (KTVI) - On the last day of the Moolah Shriner’s Circus Sunday, the show went on without three elephants that broke loose during Saturday afternoon's performance at the St. Charles Family Arena.

"We could feel the ground shaking underneath us,” said Sally Schmiz, who had just put her car in park behind the arena just before 5 p.m. Saturday.

"Before we could even say, 'What is it?' Here, an elephant head came right out between the RVs.”

Her two teenage sons were in the car, ready to volunteer at the circus. She had no idea that moments before, the animals had peeled open a steel sally port door and escaped from the arena.

"They came right in front of my car. They turned left and came right down the side of my car,” she remembered. "I just told them to hang on. I pushed it into reverse, and I could only go a few feet because cars were surrounding me."

Schmiz managed to snap several pictures of the three huge females stomping through the parking lot during a sold-out matinee. She said the animals were linked, tail to trunk, as they pushed between two parked pickups belonging to circus staff.

"The width was two feet. The elephants just mainly took the pickup trucks and moved them out. We saw car parts just being thrown up in the air. The windows were being smashed by the elephants."

Schmiz said it took trainers at least 40 minutes and lots of peanuts to get those elephants safely into a semi trailer. Circus spokesperson Dennis Burkholder said no one was injured. But, Schmiz said she saw a staff person with a gash on his head. She saw every available trainer and performer drop what they were doing to save every person and animal on that parking lot.

"The trainers and the handlers, they did everything just the right way."

Schmiz also said she went to the circus as a little girl, when her grandfather was a volunteer. To her, the elephants looked extremely agitated and tired as they moved their heads up and down and reared onto their hind legs.

Burkholder said this was the first time in the 72-year history of the circus this had ever happened. The team started an investigation into a cause and planned changes to make sure this never happens again.

Schimz admitted she was scared. But, she planned to bring her boys back to the circus next year.

"This was just a freak thing,” she laughed, nervously, “Of all the places to park.”

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