Advertisement

Archive for Saturday, December 12, 1970

Three injured in bomb blast on KU campus

December 12, 1970

Advertisement

After five days of turmoil on the Kansas University campus, bomb blasted through Summerfield Hall on the campus Friday night injuring three students and damaging the nerve center of the university — the computation center.

None of the three students was critically injured. All were treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, although it may be weeks before it is known whether two of the three have permanent hearing damage.

1970: A year of turmoil

Forty years ago today, the Kansas Union burned. What followed was a year of violence and destruction not seen since Quantrill's Raid. While the unrest has long since dissipated, the memories remain.

Summerfield, located on Sunnyside Avenue just northeast of Allen Fieldhouse and north of Robinson Gym, is the home of the school of business and economics.

Keith Lawton, KU director of facilities planning and operations, refused today to make any official damage estimate on the building whatever.

A KU administrator speculated privately today that officials would be reluctant to make an estimate since a $2 million damage estimate at the time of the Student Union fire in April proved to be about double the actual damages.

Lawrence fire department spokesmen originally pegged damage at $100,000 to the building and $2,000 to the contents. But they later reduced the original estimate and then finally decided that since the damage was the result of an explosion not a fire, they would make no damage estimate at all.

The Bombing

The bombing, about 11 p.m. Friday, came after nearly a week of turmoil that apparently revolved around a demand by members of the KU Black Students Union that Gary Jackson, former assistant to the dean of men, be reinstated to a position he was fired from in July.

There were no indications either way, law enforcement and university officials said, whether the bombing was connected in any way with the recent turmoil.

Since Monday, when a student was wounded in an unprecedented campus shooting in front of Watson Library, the campus has been tense. Marches, picketing, a beating and fires, apparently caused by arsonists, marked the week up to the time of the bombing Friday night.

Most seriously hurt in the bomb blast Friday night was Mrs. Ann Marie (Carol) Duster, 20, a sophomore in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, from St. Louis, who suffered two punctured eardrums in the blast.

Vernon Breit, 21, a senior engineering student from Scott City, also suffered damage to one ear.

Less seriously hurt was Victor Harrison, 21, a senior majoring in business at KU from Wichita.

The Drama

The drama began at 10:57 p.m. when an anonymous telephone call came to Frank Janzen who was manning the computation center's dispatch switchboard. Janzen said he could not remember the caller's exact words, but said, "It was basically that 'There is a bomb set to go off in the computer room in three minutes,' and then 'This is no joke,'"

Janzen immediately called John Seitz, the computation center's second shift supervisor, a special student in the college from Holyrood, Kan. Seitz then made the decision to clear the computer room.

There were four student operators on duty in the computation center and — as a precaution — Seitz stationed them around the building to prevent anyone from entering the machine room where the blast was threatened. Vernon Breit and Mrs. Duster were sent to the stairwell at the southeast corner of the building. Harrison was sent to a spot about 30 feet west of that point but he was in a corridor behind a set of inner doors.

The fourth operator was positioned at the other end of the hallway.

Apparently Breit and Mrs. Duster waited outside for a few seconds, then decided to re-enter the building.

Seitz notified Paul J. Wolfe, director of the computation center and together the notified KU traffic and security of the bomb threat.

The caller was true to his word: it was no joke. The blast rocked the campus at 11 p.m. — only about three and a half minutes after the threat was received.

Investigators now theorize the bomb was planted among boxes containing student schedule sheets which were right under the stairwell — not in the machine room. Breit and Mrs. Duster were a scant 10 to 15 feet from the spot of the blast.

The impact knocked both of them down. The tremendous shock at least temporarily damaged their ears. Harrison also was hurt but his injuries were generally less serious.

Dr. George R. Learned, on duty at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, later said Breit has sustained a scalp cut but no skill fracture while Mrs. Duster had sustained scratches on the cornea of her eyes because she was wearing contact lenses. That injury is not believed serious, Dr. Learned said.

"They were lucky," Learned said. "They were just plain lucky!"

The force of the blast was tremendous. A concrete block wall was knocked out. The interior metal doorways were bent as if they were tin. Walls of the outside staircase were buckled.

Sheets of computer printouts were flung into tree branches outside Summerfield and shelves holding dozens of valuable computer tapes were rocked sideways.

The blast sent fragments like shrapnel flying across a walkway where they smashed into two annex buildings at Summerfield.

They found Mrs. Duster lying partially covered with debris and Breit near a corner of the building. Seitz said Mrs. Duster was screaming about "blood."

Just after the blast, witnesses saw three cars leaving the area. They were described as a late model silver or gold Chevrolet bearing Nebraska tags, a white top, brown body auto with no license tag information available and an El Camino pickup bearing Johnson County truck tags.

All three vehicles were checked and proved negative according to Police Chief Richard Stanwix and Douglas County Sheriff Rex Johnson.

Federal Bureau

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were on the scene and Mike Thomas, KU director of Traffic and Security, said the services of the FBI laboratories and identification division as well as assistance in tracking down any out-of-state leads was offered.

However, they were not authorized to take an active part in the investigation by the FBI's Washington office.

By 1:30 a.m., investigating officers had set up a table-sized seive to sift through the tons of debris in search of clues.

Portions of what is believed to have been either a dynamite or black powder bomb were found almost immediately and collected for analysis. Floodlights and heaters were set up to assist the men as they worked in the 20-degree weather.

Men from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the office of State Fire Marshal, Douglas County Sheriff, city police and KU security division worked on the case.

Ironically, new security rules had been recently issued for the computation center which ordered that interior doors be locked at 6 p.m. Had it not been for that, the person or persons carrying the bomb could have entered the corridor where Harrison was stationed and the bomb could have been placed in a restroom immediately next to the computer itself or in the hallway.

The boxes where the bomb was planted contained blank student time schedules ready for use in the upcoming semester.

The GE-635 computer,a $3.5 million machine which was in the room adjacent to the stairwell where the blast occurred, was apparently not seriously damaged by the blast. Computer center personnel said the machine was still functioning following the blast, in a normal fashion.

Dale Rummer, associate director of the computer center, remarked, "I would have expected it would have upset something. Of course, we won't really know" until tests scheduled for today are run on the machine.

Most serious immediate damage appeared to be to the computer recording tapes in a rack along the wall blown out by the explosion. However, no tapes invaluable to university operations were in that location.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.