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Remembering the 'Buhl rampage': Relatives, survivors look for healing

Detroit — On June 11, 1982,  Detroiter Robert Harrington, incensed over an insurance dispute, burst into a law office in the Buhl Building with a shotgun, pistol and jar of gasoline.

He shot to death Eve August, a promising 24-year-old law clerk intern, and his actions injured — some critically — 38 others in what came to be known as the “Buhl rampage.”

Now, survivors and family members will gather three decades later in a private ceremony to remember the attack and celebrate August’s life.

“Growing up, the world I knew always involved her,” said her brother Lou, a 53-year-old Washington, D.C., resident. “She had such vivid qualities to her. She was incredibly kind and incredibly verbal. I never stood a chance against her in any argument whether I was right or wrong.”

For August family members, the memorial promises to be cathartic. For others, it may be bittersweet.

“It’s been 30 years of recovery. I see every day the effects it’s had on my husband,” said Vivian Hudson, whose husband, Lester, was a partner in the Bell and Hudson firm. He fell from an eighth-story window in the attack. He was critically injured with head injuries and never practiced law again.

“This somewhat opens all wounds,” Vivian Hudson said. “But I think it will be very healing and helpful to my son and my husband and everyone else involved to have this memorial.”

Harrington ‘blew his top’

Harrington walked out of his house with a .22-caliber revolver, a sawed-off shotgun and jar filled with gas from a can in his garage on the morning of June 11, 1982.

He was upset about a $2,500 retainer check handed over to the law firm to settle an insurance case involving a fire in his home.

In a hospital room interview in November 1982, he told Detroit News reporter Robert Ankeny that he “blew his top” after confronting attorney and former Wayne County Judge Edward Bell inside the law offices in the Buhl Building downtown.

“I pulled the shotgun and fired at him,” Harrington said. “I did not see where he went. I started shooting. I had a box of shotgun shells in my pocket.”

He threw the gas on the floor, igniting it with another shotgun blast. People scrambled to escape, jumping or falling from the eighth-floor windows. The building was extensively damaged.

Bell was wounded by the blasts. August was killed.

Former Detroit News photographer Michael Green was ordered to the building when the mayhem broke.

“Smoke was coming out of the building and firefighters were working to rescue people,” said Green, 54, now working for the Associated Press in Chicago.

Green ended up with an iconic shot of Harrington being apprehended by a police detective.

“Of all the crazy days, that is definitely one of them that I’ll remember,” Green said

Harrington, now 65, was convicted of murder, attempted murder and arson. He’s serving his sentence in the Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian. His earliest release date is April 30, 2060.

August scholarship returns

The August family helped create a scholarship fund in Eve’s name shortly after her death with her alma mater, the Detroit College of Law. Lou August went to the Buhl building on a lark back in December. He met David Ottenwess, whose firm of Ottenwess Allman and Taweel currently resides in the building.

“When I heard the name, I recognized it immediately and asked him to come to the office to talk,” Ottenwess said.

That was the start of the memorial service. It’s not surprising that Ottenwess recognized the name. He was one of the first recipients of the Eve August Moot Court Scholarship.

August family members continue to feel Eve’s loss, but focus on her positive qualities.

“Eve had a strong sense of justice and purpose coupled with great compassion for others,” said Alex August, a Troy accountant who was 10 years younger than his sister when she died. Her parents welcome the opportunity just to talk again about their daughter. They said they were happy to keep her memory alive.

And her memory seems set to live on. The scholarship somehow got lost in the shuffle after the college was taken over and moved under the Michigan State University umbrella. Now it’s back. Students will once again benefit from the Eve August scholarship come fall, thanks to the family and MSU officials.

Update: At the memorial service

By Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News

A plaque will now hang in the office at almost the exact spot where Eve August was killed, commemorating her life. Her parents, Elsie and Herb August, were presented with an identical plaque to take back to their home in Southfield at the memorial service on June 9, 2012.

“My biggest fear was for my sister’s memory fading to oblivion and my children not knowing what an amazing person their aunt was,” Lou August told the crowd. His children Alexandra, 19, Michael, 15, and Raquel, 11, sang songs in their aunt’s honor at the beginning of the memorial.

Herb August, father of Eve August, who was killed at age 24 by disgruntled law client Robert Harrington in the Buhl Building rampage, hugs his grandson Matthew August after he sang a tribute song during the memorial service on Saturday at the Buhl Building. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

Also attending the memorial were members of the Bell & Hudson firm, including partner Lester Hudson and junior partner Jerome Barney, who both spoke. Barney was in court when the shooting took place. Hudson was in the office and sustained head injuries after he jumped from an eighth-floor window onto the roof over the third floor to escape the flames.

Also speaking was Wayne Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny, who was the prosecuting attorney in the August case. Thomas Robinson, a sergeant with the Detroit Police homicide unit at the time of the rampage, told the story of how he apprehended Harrington that day to a captivated group crowded around him.

Lou August speaks at the June 9 memorial service, while standing next to a portrait of his sister. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)

“A hero is someone who does something voluntarily. When you get paid it’s just doing your job,” said Robinson, who ran through the smoke to find and handcuff Harrington. “I was just doing my job.”

For the survivors, the memories dredged up were often painful and tears were shed throughout the room.

“It’s taken me a good while to come to terms, to grips, with my injuries in this tragedy,” said Saunders Dorsey, who sustained severe back injuries when he jumped from an eighth-floor window to escape the fire. “What I will never come to terms with is how a life could be cut so short.”

Dorsey used Skype to appear at the memorial from his home in Florida.
‘Blew his top’

On the morning of June 11, 1982, Harrington walked out of his house with a .22-caliber revolver, a sawed-off shotgun and a jar filled with gas from a can in his garage.

He was upset about a $2,500 retainer check handed over to the law firm to settle an insurance case involving a fire in his home.

In a hospital room interview in November 1982, he told Detroit News reporter Robert Ankeny that he “blew his top” after confronting attorney and former Wayne County Judge Edward Bell inside the law offices in the Buhl Building.

“I pulled the shotgun and fired at him,” Harrington said. “I did not see where he went. I started shooting. I had a box of shotgun shells in my pocket.”

Eve August will be remembered through a scholarship in her honor.

Joan Howarth, the dean of Michigan State’s Law School, announced at the memorial the re-establishment of the “Eve August Moot Court Award” at the university. When the Detroit College of Law was consolidated under the MSU umbrella, the award had gotten lost in the shuffle. It will be given to the top brief writer and the top oralist in the moot court law program.

The biggest surprise of the memorial came from Ottenwess, who graduated from the Detroit College of Law in 1986 and was one of the first to receive the scholarship. His firm pledged to donate $25,000 to the school and he personally pledged $25,000 to the scholarship. Lou August said the announcement left him “spellbound.”

For the family, the scholarship was another chance to find a little peace even as the sense of loss remains strong after all these decades.

“I will no longer be haunted by the Buhl Building,” said younger brother Alex August. “Instead of being the place where my sister died, it’s going to be the place where she’s remembered.”