On April 11, 1965, Mark Slaughter and his family decided against visiting relatives in Greentown due to predicted bad weather, opting instead to head back to their home in western Howard County.

Due to torrential rain and wind, Slaughter’s father pulled into an empty garage of a family friend, located just west of Kokomo, to wait out the storm.

Little did they know that while they were in the garage, the towns of Russiaville and Alto were being flattened by a tornado.

The Slaughters were among the lucky ones.

East of Lakeville in St. Joseph County, Dick and Judy Clark and their two sons “Petey” and Rick had just returned home after taking a trip to nearby Koontz Lake when a tornado came barreling toward their home.

The family attempted to go to their basement, but the floor beneath them began shaking. To protect her 4-year-old son, Judy Clark tried grabbing Petey to bring him close to her, but due to the shaking ground, she fell on him instead. Seconds later, one of the house’s wooden window frames fell. It missed Judy but struck Petey in the neck. He died instantly.

Those stories and more than 100 others are detailed in Tipton author Janis Thornton’s new book “The 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes in Indiana,” to be released by The History Press on May 2.

No introduction is needed for the natural disaster coined the “Palm Sunday tornado outbreak.”

The outbreak produced 55 confirmed tornadoes over one day and 16 hours over six states, killing nearly 300, injuring more than 3,600 and causing more than $1 billion in damages.

In Indiana, the storm produced twisters, some a half-mile wide, that swept through 17 Indiana counties.

Locally, the tornado destroyed much of Russiaville and Alto before making its way to Kokomo, where it leveled houses, businesses and the Maple Crest Apartments. In Greentown, the tornado killed 10 and destroyed 80 homes on the town’s south side and dismantled Eastern High School’s gymnasium.

In all, more than a dozen people were killed in Howard County.

Some of the people interviewed by Thornton for the book recalled having to drag the lifeless bodies of their neighbors out of the wreckage. Others simply recalled their parents’ cars being thrown across their front lawn.

No matter the extent of damage the tornadoes left, anybody who experienced them that Palm Sunday was left with an impression that has persisted for a lifetime.

“Many of the people I talked to tell me they’re still bothered and still terrified when there are tornado warnings, and a lot of people who rebuilt their house made sure they had a basement,” Thornton said.

A self-professed history lover, Thornton spent all of 2021 conducting interviews with those from Indiana who lived through the Palm Sunday tornadoes. In total, Thornton interviewed 120 people. Nearly all the interviews made it into the book.

“The people who shared these stories want them to be preserved, to be documented and that they shouldn’t be forgotten,” Thornton said.

“The 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes in Indiana” is Thornton’s sixth nonfiction book. Most recently, she penned “No Place Like Murder: True Crime in the Midwest,” a collection of 20 true crime stories that “shocked the Midwest between 1869 and 1950,” including crimes committed in Howard and Tipton counties.

Thornton’s book will be available for purchase at major bookstores and online booksellers, as well as on her website, www.janis-thornton.com.

Tyler Juranovich can be reached at 765-454-8577, by email at tyler.juranovich@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @tylerjuranovich.

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