Nova Scotia

Yarmouth, N.S., deck collapse picture-taker wants to set record straight

Riley MacDonald, the Yarmouth, N.S., teen who snapped a photo of her high school friends posing on a deck at the very moment it began to collapse, wants to set the record straight about the day's events after a flurry of criticism on Facebook.

Riley MacDonald snapped photo at moment deck fell, leading to criticism on Facebook

Riley MacDonald, who is in Grade 11, was tasked with taking photos of friends in Grade 12 for Senior Skip Day 2015. She took two photos in rapid succession. As she did, the deck began to collapse. (Riley MacDonald)

Riley MacDonald, the Yarmouth, N.S., teen who snapped a photo of her high school friends posing on a deck at the very moment it began to collapse, wants to set the record straight about the day's events after a flurry of criticism on Facebook.

Riley MacDonald, 17, was at a friend's house on Hanf Road in Brazil Lake for Senior Skip Day 2015 on June 12.

The majority of students at the party were Grade 12 students, including her best friend. But what should have been a day of celebration and relaxation ended with blood and tears in the afternoon. The memory keeps MacDonald awake at night. 

She said the day started off on a happy note.

"There was no drama," she said. "Everyone was getting along and stuff. We were just sitting around in camp chairs in a circle, just talking and having a good time." 

How it happened

About an hour into the party, one of the graduating students suggested they all pose on the deck for photos since their handmade posters were already taped to the deck's glass. 

MacDonald said she stood on the lawn, with another student's phone, and snapped two photos of the group of about 40 students in rapid succession. The homeowner's wife was also taking photos at the time.

"I got one good picture, and I got the picture with the bend in the middle, like one second after," she said. 

The first of the two photos MacDonald took. This one was taken just a moment before the deck began to give way. (Riley MacDonald)

In the second photo, the crucial moment was captured: surprised faces, wood splintering and shattering beneath those posing. 

MacDonald said by the time she lowered the phone, she was in shock. Her friends were sprawled on the ground, some crying out in pain. 

"I can't really tell you what I did immediately after, but I probably stood there for about a minute and then called my mom."

MacDonald said her mother told her to calm down, hang up, and help as many people as she could.

"In my head, one of my first thoughts was, 'Where's (my best friend) Alyssa?' But where she landed, she wasn't hurt," MacDonald said. 

"So, once she got up, she was like me. We were just trying to help people … running around frantically with water and paper towels for the blood and stuff." 

'We're being bullied'

MacDonald calls the collapse "a freak accident" in which alcohol was not a factor.

About a dozen students were taken to hospital with cuts and bruises and one had a broken ankle.

In the two weeks since the incident, MacDonald said she's had trouble sleeping.

"I just kept hearing the crunch of it collapsing and I just kept seeing it over and over. And I'd wake up every hour through the night."

On June 20, MacDonald's photo was posted to the Facebook page for EMS1, a paramedic news network based in San Francisco. The post was captioned, "Have you responded to a deck or balcony collapse? What are your lessons learned for other EMS professionals?"

Since its posting, there have been 80 comments from multiple users, a large number of whom were critical of how the incident was handled and the common sense of those who were there that day.

MacDonald said the responses have made her angry, and she wants to set the record straight. 

"[They] don't realize the damage they're doing to us. All over again. And like, we're being bullied. Everyone just needs to be thankful that everyone is alive today. And that all those students will walk across the stage, come graduation next week," she said. 

"I just want people to realize the true story of what happened. I want people to stop judging on what they think they know."

MacDonald said she doesn't know how EMS1 found the photo. 

"They must have took it from a share off someone's wall. I never gave them permission to use the picture," she said.

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