Book presented, victim misnamed

Tornado remembrance book released six months later

 Chronicling devastation can be a heart-wrenching responsibility.

When a tornado dashed through southeastern Illinois February 29, writers and photographers from The Daily Egyptian, as well as students in SIU’s School of Journalism, rushed to the scene.

As news of destruction throughout Harrisburg and Ridgway surged to national attention, so did the students’ documentation, which has been published in a book called “4:56 A.M. The Story of the Feb. 29, 2012 Tornado.”

The book celebrated its release Sunday at the Harrisburg District Library. Copies sold for $10, and nearly $3,500 in proceeds were raised for area agencies involved with recovery.

The pictures and stories between the book’s covers evoked strong emotion from all who were involved, but sobs and grievances were heard once the ceremony started as the nearly 100 attendees were brought to a startling discovery: Don Ray Smith, a retired coal miner from Equality who died March 7, was misnamed in the book’s memoriam to the tornado victims.

Ida Evans, Smith’s daughter, brought the news to light after an introduction by Harrisburg City Clerk Sally Woffard. She relayed a plea for alteration in front of friends, family and community members.

“He was my father; of course it’s an emotional subject,” she said. “I just wanted to let the people there know as soon as I saw it.”

Phyliss K. Smith, Smith’s wife of 49 years, said she understands that mistakes happen. It’s just a matter of how and if they are corrected, she said.

Les Wallace walks down Water Street soon after the tornado struck. Wallace said the duplex he was living in was completely destroyed. “I don’t know how I
survived,” he said.
Provided by Steve Matzker

“It’s a history book,” she said. “This book is part of history now, and I just want my husband to be remembered for who he really was.”

William Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism, said he aims to set the record straight.

“There is no excuse for mistakes,” he said. “We are investigating ways to address the error and will present the family and library with copies of the book containing a correction.”

Freivogel said he appreciated the community’s warm welcome and thanked them for letting SIU students tell their story.

“We also are considering a one-page erratum, correcting the mistake, for the books already printed,” he said. “We could make it available at the library for those who already have purchased books.”

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About Caleb Motsinger

Caleb Motsinger can be reached at or 536-3311 ext. 269.

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