HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opened in Hartford with a rousing ovation for the group of acrobats injured during an aerial performance last weekend in Rhode Island.
Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson addressed the accident as he spoke to fans on Thursday shortly after the circus opened its eight-show run in Connecticut's capital. He expressed gratitude to the circus crew and first responders, and thanked the crowd for its support.
"Our young ladies are recovering, they're in great spirits," he said as the crowd roared with approval. "They want us to let you know, and I quote, they feel your prayers, they feel your thoughts, they feel your concerns."
The women were injured during a stunt Sunday in Providence in which they hung by their hair from a frame as a "human chandelier." A clip securing the frame to the rafters snapped, sending the eight women plummeting about 20 feet to the ground.
Thursday's show went off without incident.
Seven acrobats remain hospitalized Friday, two in serious condition. Doctors have said two of the women have spinal cord injuries and only time will tell if they will ever walk again. One acrobat was released Tuesday.
On Friday, the Feld family, which owns Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, sent an open letter to the people of Providence, thanking them for the overwhelming care and kind thoughts, as well as thanking first responders and the medical team for their work. They said they planned to return to Providence next year.
During a news conference before Thursday's performance, Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne said federal health and safety inspectors and circus officials have not identified why that clip failed. Nicole Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, said the aerial stunt won't be replaced in the act at this time.
"We'll look and see how the recovery process goes," she said.
As the circus officials spoke, lionesses, tigers and a leopard could be heard roaring and growling in an area behind a curtain.
Asked if a net might be used in the future, Payne said that because the act went up and down, "We're not entirely sure a net would have really added any safety feature."
Payne said the margin for safety for the performance was satisfactory. "We feel that our safety standards are impeccable," he said.