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Witnesses describe ‘horrific’ scene at Back Bay station when escalator malfunctioned

The escalator leading to the Commuter rail at the Back Bay T stop was closed Monday morning.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Witnesses described a bloody, horrific scene after an escalator malfunctioned at the Back Bay MBTA station on Sunday.

The incident happened shortly before 6 p.m. on an escalator from the Amtrak and commuter rail platform to the station’s street-level lobby, said Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman. Nine people were taken to area hospitals with injuries that were not life threatening, according to Boston EMS.

Claire Maia, 31, and her husband live in New Orleans and were in town to watch the New England Patriots play the Saints at Gillette Stadium. They had just stepped off the escalator when it suddenly started going in reverse.


“I literally had stepped off the escalator, and I kind of tripped a little bit,” Maia said in a telephone interview. “It happened in the blink of an eye.”

The stairs were moving dangerously fast, and people started falling. “It was not a normal speed, this was high max speed,” she said.

Maia said the escalator was full when it malfunctioned, and people were piling up at the bottom, “kind of like dominos falling into a pile,” she said.

“People were screaming,” Maia said. “I was screaming, ‘Call 911!’ It was terrifying.”

Maia, who is five months pregnant, said she looked for an emergency stop button and pressed it immediately.

“I’ve always been a little scared of escalators,” Maia said. “I knew there would be an emergency stop button at the top and bottom.”

She said she saw at least 25 people piled up at the bottom of the escalator, some of whom appeared to be seriously injured.

“There was a lot of blood,” Maia said. “It was pretty horrific.”

Her friend, Sarah Aucoin, 33, was riding behind her on the escalator when it suddenly shuddered and the “bottom dropped out if it.”

“It just started to freefall,” Aucoin said. “It was like the Tower of Terror ride at Disneyworld.”


Aucoin said the bottom of the escalator was acting like a “paper shredder, but for people.”

“I shredded my legs on the escalator,” said Aucoin. “A little girl was missing half of her face, laying in a pool of blood, not moving. Her mother was scalped.”

Aucoin said the freefall lasted for about 3 to 5 seconds, and only stopped once her friend pushed the emergency button.

“It was scary,” said Aucoin, her voice breaking as she began to cry. “Had she not hit the button, we would be talking about deaths, not injuries.”

Matt Wasserman was waiting with a friend near the bottom of the escalator when the mechanical stairs suddenly seemed to reverse course, sending people tumbling backwards, he said.

“It was kind of like out of a movie scene,” said Wasserman, who had just taken the commuter rail train back from the Patriots game. “All of the sudden it goes from going up to going down, and you start seeing people trying to kind of climb up the downward-going escalator.”

“It kind of looked like dominoes because there were so many people on the escalator,” said Wasserman, 18, who described the stairs as “very full” at the time of the incident.

As people started to fall backwards, a chaotic scene erupted, he said.

“It was like there was a shooting, the way the crowd reacted — the way the crowd sounded and reacted,” he said, adding that people were screaming. “And then there was this massive pileup at the bottom.”


Wasserman wasn’t on the escalator at the time, but was “right at the bottom,” close to the pile of people who fell on top of each other as a result of the malfunction.

He said he wasn’t sure of the extent of people’s injuries. However, he saw “a lot of blood there.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney and on Instagram @emilysweeney22. Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.