17 Students Trapped in Elevator for an Hour

The students in the elevator pose for a selfie. Photo courtesy of Zania Socka.

Junior Lucy Mezey was walking to her first period class at 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, having just finished crew practice. She didn’t feel like walking all the way to the third floor, so she joined two freshman girls waiting for the elevator next to the Black Box. She had no idea she would spend the next hour trapped inside.

They called the elevator, and by the time it arrived, “there were probably nine of us waiting,” Mezey said in an interview with the Bit.

“I saw a bunch of people going in, but I was tired so I walked in too,” sophomore Zania Socka said.

“People just kept coming in and then there were 17 of us, and everyone was squeezing together,” Mezey said. She remembers having a premonition that the elevator might break down.

The elevator began moving abnormally slowly, according to Mezey, and then after a few feet it came to a stop. “We were stuck between floors one and two,” she said.

The weight limit displayed on the inside of the elevator is 3500 pounds. Mezey said the students did the calculations while trapped in the elevator and came to the conclusion that they were probably well below maximum capacity. She said she thought the elevator stopped due to it being old and not working as well as it used to.

“Anyone knows that 17 people on an elevator is too much. It’s common sense,” Steve Schatzman, a member of the high school security staff, told the Bit in an interview. “And it’s an old elevator.”

Junior Lydia Kabiri, one of the 17 students, had already been stuck in the Black Box elevator. Earlier in the semester, she and 12 others spent ten minutes trapped inside the same elevator before being helped out by the security team. “She was kind of our expert,” Mezey said. The students decided to call for help by pressing the elevator’s emergency button.

They were connected to an off-site security company and a woman on the other end asked for Mezey’s full name and phone number so that she could call her if the line got disconnected. There was no cell phone service in the elevator, which is why the students’ only choice was to use the helpline, but they were never disconnected from the operator. 

The off-site company called the school, and Steve Parnell, Moris Melara and Carlos Soriano, members of the maintenance team, as well as Nick Prout, the high school’s director of security, went to assist the students.

The members of the maintenance and security teams pried the elevator doors open a few inches and wedged a book between the doors to hold them open between 20 and 30 minutes into the ordeal, according to Kabiri.

Head of School Russell Shaw and Assistant Principal for Student Life Quinn Killy arrived and told the students through the crack that the fire department was coming because maintenance and security couldn’t fully open the doors. 

Junior Sophie Bronner said they were all nervous about getting in trouble, but that “Quinn was great and upbeat, as was Russell. Everyone’s spirits were high. People were still laughing; they were still making jokes.” 

Members of the fire department arrived and successfully opened the doors with a crowbar. The elevator was still suspended above the ground, so students jumped down two or so feet to the first floor.

Harris said that everyone got out of the elevator safely and that nobody suffered any illnesses or injuries.

In total, the students were stuck in the elevator for an hour. “Nobody freaked out that much,” Mezey said. “It was a very calm environment.”

Socka said the students all introduced themselves and shared their hobbies while they were trapped. She said that while the situation wasn’t ideal, it was still “a fun experience” getting to know new people. 

“There were 17 of us in a small little box. No air circulation. It was hot, there was sweat, it didn’t smell great,” junior Sophie Bronner said. “But even though it was a very stressful situation, we prevailed.”

Kelly Morris, the high school office manager, sent an email to the high school faculty and student body at 11:34 a.m. indicating that the Black Box elevator was up and running but that the school’s other elevator was out of service. She later said in an interview with the Bit that the respective issues were unrelated. 

In her email, Morris warned that too many people on the elevators will cause them to be stuck and urged everyone who can to take the stairs. By the end of the school day, both elevators were back in service.

Andrew Mikhail contributed reporting.

CORRECTION (March 14): An earlier version of this article misstated the date when the elevator stoppage took place. It was Tuesday, March 8, not March 9.