Community reacts to fatal Western United Life Building accident

Community reacts to fatal Western United Life Building accident

An accident soon turned to tragedy Saturday night after police say John Butler, 16, fell inside an abandoned downtown building.

Midland police said Butler and some teens were playing with air-soft rifles when Butler fell through a large hole of the Western United Life Building. The hole, they said extended from the 11th floor all the way to the ground. By the time police and EMS arrived, Butler had already passed away.

"We're praying for the families that have to go through anything like this," said Morgan Permenter, a dancer at Summer Mummers. "We're hoping the best for everyone. A few of us stayed a couple hours after we found out. I was just trying to get that through my mind that it was a young kid."

Right across the street is the Yucca Theater, where volunteers said they were just finishing up a show for Summer Mummers when they heard the scene outside fill with first-responders.

"Around 11:00 we heard sirens and a lot of commotion," said George McAlpine, a bartender at the Yucca Theater.

"The cops at Summer Mummers who manage the audience, they had to leave early because they were called out because of the accident," said Permenter. "A lot of us were nervous because there were 10-12 cop cars all around the building."

The building, which has been out of operation for more than a decade, had original plans of becoming Hotel Fuel. After several attempts to bring the building back to life, it's left with broken windows, graffiti, and after last night's accident, it's left with flowers.

"These buildings have been abandoned for years. Once you knock out a floor or do something to it, the building is a hazard," said McAlpine. "But this is the first time I've heard of any fatality related to these abandoned buildings. The last thing anybody would want is to bury their children. You want your children to bury you."

"I prayed last night and I'm going to keep praying that the families get through this and that the boys with him don't have a long-term connection with this," said Permenter. "It'll take a while and I'll be praying for them for every single step of the way and so my friends will, too."

Midland police said the teens did not have permission to be in the building and the investigation continues.

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