As smoke plumed into the morning sky, flames swallowed walls and floors and firefighters fought in vain to save the Chesley Roller Sport Park, the faces on the young people gathered a parking lot away said everything that needed saying about what this loss meant.
For these hoodie-wearing teens who call the skate park their "home away from home," witnessing this scene was like watching the slow death of a very dear friend.
"Everyone who goes here is like my family," 13-year-old Andrew Slocum said through tears. "And now ... it's just gone. It's like my second home. I love this place."
(Here is a Free Press report on the fire that includes video and reports from others via Twitter)
By 11 a.m. Saturday it was still too early for firefighters to say what caused the fire. Calls to 911 began coming in around 9:40 a.m. or so. Firefighters arrived within minutes, but by then it may have already been too late. Lt. Scott LeBrun of the Mankato Department of Public Safety, said he was among the first to respond and when he arrived, flames were already coming through the roof.
As far as he could tell there was no one inside the structure during the fire. LeBrun said they called State Fire Marshal's office to handle the investigation. Given the extent of the damage, LeBrun said, it could be difficult to determine the fire's origin. The fire marshal along with Mankato police offiers have been interviewing witnesses to try and piece together what happened.
Word spread quickly among the skateboarding community and one by one they arrived at the park. Some shed tears, others exchanged hugs. Most stood and watched the grand spectacle silently, helplessly.
"I've been coming here since I was 10," said Evan Holmen, 18. "They have an amazing staff, everyone's always so polite, everyone always supports us all. It's indescribable."