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No connection

Dear Editor:

Mr. Beaudry stated in his 1/3/13 letter, “The deadliest school massacre appears to have occurred in Chicago in 1958. A student set fire to the school, killing 92 students and three nuns.”

The fire at Our Lady of Angels school on Dec. 1,1958, was a horrible tragedy and the cause of the fire has never been solved. I know this because I was a student there and survived that cold Chicago day. Over the 54 years since, I have followed all the investigations about the fire. Mr. Beaudry is incorrect in stating that a student set fire to the school. This is one theory of the cause of the fire. To this date, the case is still open and the cause of the fire remains undetermined. It could have been arson or accidental. My personal opinion is that it will never be solved.

The great loss of life that horrible day had multiple reasons, including no sprinkler system, no smoke alarms, fire alarms in only two of the three wings of the building, the fire alarm system was not directly connected to the fire department, inadequate escape routes, open wooden staircases that acted like chimneys spreading the fire rapidly to the second story, highly varnished floors and interior wood that added to the toxic smoke, flammable ceiling material, glass transoms above classroom doors, no fire doors on the second floor which contributed to the roof collapse shortly after the fire department arrived, a locked 7-foot iron fence that inclosed the courtyard, only one fire escape for the U-shaped building that held over 1,400 students, 24 small classrooms that held 60 or more students per room, student coats stored on hooks in hallways, inadequate housekeeping procedures. The school building was a fire trap and these conditions severely limited rescue options.

School fire safety emerged as a civil priority everywhere in the U.S. in the aftermath of the fire. In the years since, our schools and public buildings are safer. This country should not be afraid to have a civil discussion about guns, regulation and violence in our society in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown. It is a complex issue and deserves careful thought and I am confident that our leaders will do so after so many of these incidents which involve military-style weapons.

The Our Lady of Angels school fire should not have been used as an example of, “individuals set on mass murder will use any means necessary” and I wish Mr. Beaudry would not have included it in has letter. The fire was in no way similar to the many schools shootings that this country has endured.

Sandra Amato Butcher

This story was posted on January 10, 2013.