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A bus carrying 33 sixth-grade students on their way back from a field trip to Springfield, Ill., slammed into the back of a semi truck Monday afternoon, injuring more than a dozen students and the bus driver.

The students attend Grantfork Upper Elementary School in the Highland School District. The fifth and sixth-grade students, traveling on two different buses, had visited the state capitol and the Lincoln home and museum and the old courthouse earlier in the day.

The crash happened at 4:34 p.m. on southbound Interstate 55, about five miles north of Litchfield. The semi had either slowed or stopped for traffic in a construction zone just before the crash, police said.

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Parent Sherri Powell was on the bus transporting fifth graders with her daughter Brytani Powell, 12, which was ahead. After learning of the crash, the driver returned, she said.

Sherri Powell said more than a dozen ambulances were on scene and students were being loaded onto stretchers and fitted with neck braces.

"It was pretty much just chaos," she said. "Kind of just a scene out of a horror movie."

Parents were doing what they could to keep the children calm, she said.

One student, Jessica Davis, 12, of Alhambra, Ill., was airlifted to SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, where she was being treated for a broken femur, said spokesperson Ashley Wiehle. She is in fair condition and expected to undergo surgery.

Eight other students and the bus driver were transported to area hospitals by ambulance.

Becky Bishop, a spokeswoman at St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, said seven children were treated at her hospital. She said two have been airlifted to Children's Hospital in St. Louis, two were discharged, and three are still at the hospital in stable condition.

Bishop said teachers and parents are currently with the injured children.

"It was great how the school came together and got people treated and contacted right away," Bishop said.

She said the parents of the children declined to talk to news reporters.

The remainder of the victims were going to Hillsboro Area Hospital, police said. Uninjured students were transported back to the school.

Four other students were treated at St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland after their parents drove them there, said spokesman Randy Schorfheide. They were treated for minor injuries, mostly bumps and bruises, and then released, he said.

In addition to the bus driver, seven other adults were on the bus; they included two teachers and five chaperones, Superintendent Mike Sutton said. The bus did not have seat belts.

Robert Patrick of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.