Christmas Show Actor Dies in 25-Foot-Fall During Opening Performance

An actor in a Christmas pageant who was suspended 25 feet in the air by an overhead rope fell headfirst onto a concrete church floor and died, authorities said Thursday.

Keri Shryock, 23, and two other actors were playing wise men on their way to Bethlehem in Wednesday night's opening performance at Crossroads Community Church.

The three actors were approaching a star when Shryock fell into an aisle in the audience portion of the theater, witnesses told The Cincinnati Enquirer.

"Toward the ending of the song she came loose," Daniel Doepke, 55, of Middletown, told the newspaper. "I can't describe how heart-wrenching it was, her fall to a hard concrete surface."

Shryock was taken to University Hospital, where she died Thursday morning. A hospital spokesman declined to describe her injuries.

Cincinnati police were assisting the Hamilton County coroner in an investigation, a police spokeswoman said.

There was no immediate explanation of how the accident occurred, or if there was an equipment failure.

"Our prayers and heartfelt sympathies go out to her family during this incredibly difficult time," the church said in a statement. "We are shocked and deeply grieved by this tragic accident."

Spokesman Matt Chandler said the church had no further comment. He said no one involved with the production would be available to talk about the staging, which the church characterized as a contemporary Nativity story.

"It was a figurative and artistic version of the Christmas story found in the book of Luke," Chandler said.

Ten remaining performances of the show "Awaited" were canceled. The nondenominational church planned an evening of prayer, reflection and worship Thursday night to "to provide everyone involved with space to continue in the grieving process," the statement said.

The church also planned to provide grief counseling for those who witnessed the fall.

The mega-church was founded in 1996 and has grown to a membership of about 10,000, Chandler said. It is known for dramatic and musical presentations at weekend services.

The church's Web site said "Awaited" was seen by more than 20,000 people when it first was presented last year.

Shryock, from Sylvania, Ohio, near Toledo, had graduated from Bowling Green State University this year and was an assistant in the Office of Commuter Services and Off Campus Living at Xavier University in Cincinnati.