I remember clearly when I first heard that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.
The Carthage Press staff was getting everything ready for the April 19, 1995, newspaper, when Publisher Jim Farley rushed into the newsroom and said the federal building in Oklahoma City had been bombed.
My reaction was nothing to be proud of. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I would make sure we put something about it into the newspaper. Of course, I didn't realize at the time that this was more than a simple bombing, but one which had cost hundreds of lives. Farley quickly set me straight and, if I recall, we had fine coverage, albeit nearly all from the Associated Press on that fateful day.
It seems hard to believe that 10 years have passed.
It didn't take long for me to get the opportunity to make up for my mistake. Less than two weeks later, Carthage was put right in the middle of the bombing story. We were shorthanded on Tuesday, May 2, 1995. City reporter Randee Kaiser was on vacation. The rest of the staff was getting that day's edition ready when word came across that FBI agents had zeroed in on two men who were staying at the Kel-Lake Hotel and might have a connection with the bombing.
I knew that despite his vacation, Randee would want to be involved in this one. When I called his home, he was making repairs on the roof. His wife called him to the phone and when Randee heard what was going on, he said he would be right there.
Randee was on hand when the FBI arrested Robert Jacks and Gary Land. Ron Graber and I were at the Carthage Police Station when the two men were brought in for questioning. Lifestyles Editor Mary Guccione interviewed Carthage residents who were standing outside the police station trying to get a glimpse of two men who they thought might be involved in the largest act of terrorism on American soil (at that point).
That newspaper was one of the best The Press put out during my six and a half years as managing editor. The top headline read "Captured," while the headline on the story at the bottom of page one (which was devoted entirely to the arrest) said, "Bombing suspects caught after signing real names on motel register."
As it turned out, neither man had anything to do with the Oklahoma City bombing, so there was no reason for them not to sign their real names on the register. The two were traveling across the country, mostly following old Route 66, staying in motels, drinking beer, and eating Bigfoot Pizza from Pizza Hut...all on the disability checks one of them was receiving from the federal government.
In the approximately three hours we had to get things together, The Press staff clicked for six bylined stories, two apiece for Kaiser, Mrs. Guccione, and me, and nine photos, taken by Graber, Kaiser and advertising salesman Stewart Johnson. We even scrapped a page we initially had planned and Ron Graber put together a photo page in its place.
Even though it turned out not to be as big a story as we initially thought it was, the capture of Land and Jacks at the Kel-Lake Motel turned out to be one of those days that remind reporters why they got into the business in the first place. We had the chance to thoroughly cover a local story with national significance and the Carthage Press staff made the most of it.
One ironic sidebar to the story, the only member of The Press news staff who was not able to participate in the coverage was our sports editor, who attended classes at Missouri Southern State College during the daytime. That sports editor was a guy named John Hacker, who has since become the best spot news reporter in this area of the state (and maybe in the whole state) working for The Joplin Globe. I would have loved to have seen what John could have contributed to the coverage.