The_Survivor_Tree_at_the_Oklahoma_City_National_Memorial
Photograph of the Survivor Tree elm at the Oklahoma City National Memorial as taken on 18 September 2004 by Dustin M. Ramsey

“We come here to remember Those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity.”

~ Inscription at the gate to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

Most people say they’ll never forget where they were and what they were doing when JKF was killed in Texas.  Others say they remember the exact moment they heard about the Twin Towers.  I believe it.  For me, I do remember exactly where I was when the Twin Towers were hit, but there’s one event I remember at least as well or better:  The Oklahoma City Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building.

I remember this date as though it was yesterday:  April 19, 1995.  I was only 24 and had barely left my home state of Oklahoma two years before.  I was working as a team lead in an AS/400 Support Center at IBM when my phone rang.  It was my former office mate, Nancy K.  She had gone home for an early lunch and had flipped the TV on while she was there.

“Cathie,” she said.  “Where is your family in Oklahoma?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.  “At home, I guess.  My folks live just west of Oklahoma City.  My brother is in Norman, I think.  Why?”

“You need to take your lunch break now and call your folks.  There’s something big going on in Oklahoma City and you need to check it out.  A bombing, it looks like.”

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, except to say that I was worried without understanding the gravity of the situation.  Nancy was never overly dramatic, so I knew whatever she’d seen was serious, but I didn’t have any clue just how serious this was. And, of course, this was before internet — or at least before it was as widely used as it is today. We may’ve had access to the internet at work, but we hadn’t been introduced to it yet.  And mobile phones were only for the wealthy and handn’t yet reached the general population.  I got in my car and took the short drive home for lunch.

What I saw was beyond imagination. The local NBC and CBS affiliates in Minnesota were live-streaming the KFOR and NEW9 stations from Oklahoma City.  The newscasters I’d grown up with were live on my Minnesota television, and the images were horrific.  Chaos everywhere. Images of OKC residents staggering in the streets, wounded and bloodied.  I called my folks immediately to find out where they were.  Everyone was in shock.

destroyed

I don’t know how long I watched the news over that lunch period, but I do know that I was late — very late — returning from my lunch break. I just couldn’t pull my eyes away from the TV screen.  It was the first time in my adult memory that my heart quite literally hurt.  It felt like it had been ripped down the center. It still feels like that every time I think of this date.  Today in particular, the wound feels fresh.

In the days that followed, we learned that 168 people — children included — had lost their lives.  One of the victims was from my hometown of El Reno, and another twelve were from my “2nd hometown” of Yukon.  I didn’t know them — I didn’t know any of those who died that day — but I did know some who were in the heart of destruction.  A high school classmate who was a first responder…a dear friend I’d known well during my teens…and even my own father was supposed to be in that building that morning, but had forgotten his appointment.  Though I lived 700 miles away, the loss might as well have been in my own back yard.  In fact, it was in my own back yard.  As an Oklahoman born and bred, the loss felt personal.

The blast that destroyed the Murrah Building and the lives of so many was felt at least as far away as the 22 miles between my childhood home and downtown OKC.  My dad was out in his garden using a rotor tiller. If you’ve ever used one of these gardening tools, you know that it vibrates wildly and the noise is near-deafening. And yet, even through the vibrations and sound of his work, my father felt the blast from the Murrah Building 22 miles away.

Next door at Banner Co-op, the workers and patrons streamed out of the main building to see what had happened.  My mom called my Aunt Shirley next door.  Nobody knew what had happened.  They were all clueless, but the blast felt close enough that they should be able to see the destruction.

Two months later, I made my annual trek home to Oklahoma and the first of many short drives from my childhood home to the site of the bombing.  Though I’d seen the images through the media, nothing prepared me for the front seat tour. By this time, a fence had been erected around the site to keep people out, and this fence had served as a memorial for those who were lost.  Photos, stuffed animals, keychains, letters, dried flowers, and other personal items were attached to the many chain links of the fence.  I wanted to see and read them all — I wanted to remember every single detail of those who had been lost, but reading just a few was more than my heart could handle.  I didn’t know any of those who were lost, but they were my people nonetheless.  This was my  home and it had been violated in the worst way imaginable.

The_Memorial_Fence_and_East_Gate_of_Time_at_the_Oklahoma_City_National_Memorial
Photograph of the Memorial Fence and east Gate of Time at the Oklahoma City National Memorial as taken on 18 September 2004 by Dustin M. Ramsey.

Now, 21 years later, my heart once again breaks for the loss of my own innocence and probably my entire generation’s loss of innocence.  It was the first of the  many terrorist attacks that would take place in the United States, culminating in the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers, The Pentagon, and the passengers whose fate met a Pennsylvania field.  For me, it’s equally as horrific — maybe even more so — than September 11, but only because this was my home and my own sense of security had been violated.  I’m not sure I’ve ever regained that complete sense of safety and security I once had…I’m not sure that anyone has.  Not after the Murrah Building, and most certainly not after 9/11.

Today, the site of what was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is now known as the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, and is a place for both  mourners and those with a need to know more.  At this memorial is a field of 168 chairs, each with the name of the victims inscribed upon it, one name for every chair. The chairs are empty, representing in my  mind the emptiness we all feel at their loss.

Oklahoma_City_Memorial_Chairs

Oklahoma_City_memorial
Panoramic view of the Oklahoma City Memorial. Image courtesy of Mark Pellegriniderivative work: Diliff (talk) – Oklahoma_City_memorial.png, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6915164

Today on this 21st Anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, I pay tribute to those 168 people who lost their lives.  But more importantly, maybe, I send my thoughts and prayers to the entire state of Oklahoma, and specifically to those who lost loved ones on this day in history.  I also send my deepest appreciation to the first responders, who must still be traumatized by all they witnessed.  You are our heroes!  To all of Oklahoma — the families of those lost, the victims who survived, and the first responders who are often forgotten, YOU are what makes Oklahoma Strong and, from the bottom of my heart, I send you my love and strength on this date in history.

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List of the 168 Lost on April 19, 1995

(Credit:  USA Today)
Images of the Lost

NINTH FLOOR

Drug Enforcement Administration

Shelly D. Bland, 25, of Tuttle
Carrol June “Chip” Fields, 48, Guthrie
Rona Linn Kuehner-Chafey, 35, Oklahoma City
Carrie Ann Lenz, 26, Chotaw
Kenneth Glenn McCullough, 36, Edmond

U.S. Secret Service

Cynthia L. Brown, 26, Oklahoma City
Donald Ray Leonard, 50, Edmond
Mickey B. Maroney, 50, Oklahoma City
Linda G. McKinney, 47, Oklahoma City
Kathy Lynn Seidl, 39, Bethel
Alan G. Whicher, 40, Edmond

EIGHTH FLOOR

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Ted L. Allen, 48, Norman
Peter R. Avillanoza, 56, Oklahoma City
David Neil Burkett, 47, Oklahoma City
Donald Earl Burns, Sr., 63, Oklahoma City
Kimberly Kay Clark, 39, Oklahoma City
Susan Jane Ferrell, 37, Oklahoma City
Dr. George Michael Howard, 45, Vallejo, Calif.
Antonio “Tony” C. Reyes, 55, Edmond
Lanny Lee David Scroggins, 46, Yukon
Leora Lee Sells, 57, Oklahoma City
Jules A. Valdez, 51, Edmond
David Jack Walker, 54, Edmond
Michael D. Weaver, 54, Edmond
Frances “Fran” Ann Williams, 48, Oklahoma City
Clarence Eugene Wilson, Sr. 49, Oklahoma

SEVENTH FLOOR

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Diane E. (Hollingsworth) Althouse, 45, Edmond
Andrea Yvette Blanton, 33, Oklahoma City
Kim R. Cousins, 33, Midwest City
Diana Lynne Day, 38, Oklahoma City
Castine Brooks Hearn Deveroux, 49, Oklahoma City
Judy J. (Froh) Fisher, 45, Oklahoma City
Linda Louise Florence, 43, Oklahoma City
J. Colleen Guiles, 59, Oklahoma City
Thompson Eugene “Gene” Hodges, Jr., 54, Norman
Ann Kreymborg, 57, Oklahoma City
Teresa Lea Taylor Lauderdale, 41, Shawnee
Mary Leasure-Rentie, 39, Bethany
James A. McCarthy II, 53, Edmond
Betsy J. (Beebe) McGonnell, 47, Norman
Patricia Ann Nix, 47, Edmond
Terry Smith Rees, 41, Midwest City
John Thomas Stewart, 51, Oklahoma City
John Karl Van Ess III, 67, Chickasha
Jo Ann Whittenberg, 35, Oklahoma City

SIXTH FLOOR

U.S. Marine Corps Recruiting

Sgt. Benjamin LaRanzo Davis, USMC, 29, Edmond
Capt. Randolph A. Guzman, USMC, 28, Castro Valley, Calif.

FIFTH FLOOR

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Olen Burl Bloomer, 61, Moore
James E. Boles, 50, Oklahoma City
Dr. Margaret L. “Peggy” Clark, 42, Chickasha
Richard “Dick” Cummins, 55, Mustang
Doris “Adele” Higginbottom, 44, Oklahoma City
Carole Sue Khalil, 50, Oklahoma City
Rheta Bender Long, 60, Oklahoma City

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Paul Gregory Beatty Broxterman, 42, Edmond

U.S. Customs Office

Paul D. Ice, 42, Midwest City
Claude Authur Medearis, S.S.A., 41, Norman

FOURTH FLOOR

U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway

Lucio Aleman, Jr., 33, Oklahoma City
Mark Allen Bolte, 28, Oklahoma City
Michael Carrillo, 44, Oklahoma City
Larry James Jones, 46. Yukon
James K. Martin, 34, Oklahoma City
Ronota Ann Newberry-Woodbridge, 31, Edmond
Jerry Lee Parker, 45, Norman
Michelle A. Reeder, 33, Oklahoma City
Rick L. Tomlin, 46, Piedmont
Johnny Allen Wade, 42, Edmond
John A. Youngblood, 52, Yukon

U.S. Army Recruiting Battalion

Sgt. 1st Class Lola Bolden, U.S. Army, 40, Birmingham, Ala.
Karen Gist Carr, 32, Midwest City
Peggy Louise Holland, 37, Oklahoma City
John C. Moss III., 50, Oklahoma City
Victoria (Vickey) L. Sohn, 36, Moore
Dolores (Dee) Stratton, 51, Moore
Kayla Marie Titsworth, 3.50, Lawton
Wanda Lee Watkins, 49, Oklahoma City

THIRD FLOOR

Defense Security Service

Harley Richard Cottingham, 46, Oklahoma City
Peter L. DeMaster, 44, Oklahoma City
Norma “Jean” Johnson, 62, Oklahoma City
Larry L. Turner, 42, Oklahoma City
Robert G. Westberry, 57, Oklahoma City

Federal Employees Credit Union

Woodrow Clifford “Woody” Brady, 41, Oklahoma City
Kimberly Ruth Burgess, 29, Oklahoma City
Kathy A. Finley, 44, Yukon
Jamie (Fialkowski) Genzer, 32, Wellston
Sheila R. Gigger-Driver, 28, Oklahoma City
Linda Coleen Housley, 53, Oklahoma City
Robbin Ann Huff, 37, Bethany
Christi Yolanda Jenkins, 32, Edmond
Alvin J. Justes, 54, Oklahoma City
Valerie Jo Koelsch, 33, Oklahoma City
Kathy Cagle Leinen, 47, Oklahoma City
Claudette (Duke) Meek, 43, Oklahoma City
Frankie Ann Merrell, 23, Oklahoma City
Jill Diane Randolph, 27, Oklahoma City
Claudine Ritter, 48, Oklahoma City
Christy Rosas, 22, Moore
Sonja Lynn Sanders, 27, Moore
Karan Howell Shepherd, 27, Moore
Victoria Jeanette Texter, 37, Oklahoma City
Virginia M. Thompson, 56, El Reno
Tresia Jo “Mathes” Worton, 28, Oklahoma City

SECOND FLOOR

America’s Kids Child Development Center

Baylee Almon, 1, Oklahoma City
Danielle Nicole Bell, 15 months, Oklahoma City
Zachary Taylor Chavez, 3, Oklahoma City
Dana LeAnne Cooper, 24, Moore
Anthony Christopher Cooper II, 2, Moore
Antonio Ansara Cooper Jr., 6 months, Midwest City
Aaron M. Coverdale, 5.50, Oklahoma City
Elijah S. Coverdale, 2.50, Oklahoma City
Jaci Rae Coyne, 14 months, Moore
Brenda Faye Daniels, 42, Oklahoma City
Taylor Santoi Eaves, 8 months, Midwest City
Tevin D’Aundrae Garrett, 16 months, Midwest City
Kevin “Lee” Gottshall II, 6 months, Norman
Wanda Lee Howell, 34, Spencer
Blake Ryan Kennedy, 1.50, Amber
Dominique Ravae (Johnson)-London, 2, Oklahoma City
Chase Dalton Smith, 3, Oklahoma City
Colton Wade Smith, 2, Oklahoma City

VISITOR

Scott D. Williams, 24, Tuttle

FIRST FLOOR

Social Security Administration

Teresa Antionette Alexander, 33, Oklahoma City
Richard A. Allen, 46, Oklahoma City
Pamela Cleveland Argo, 36, Oklahoma City
Saundra G. (Sandy) Avery, 34, Midwest City
Calvin Battle, 62, Oklahoma City
Peola Battle, 56, Oklahoma City
Oleta C. Biddy, 54, Tuttle
Casandra Kay Booker, 25, Oklahoma City
Carol Louise Bowers, 53, Yukon
Peachlyn Bradley, 3, Oklahoma City
Gabreon D.L. Bruce, 3 months, Oklahoma City
Katherine Louise Cregan, 60, Oklahoma City
Ashley Megan Eckles, 4, Guthrie
Don Fritzler, 64, Oklahoma City
Mary Anne Fritzler, 57, Oklahoma City
Laura Jane Garrison, 61, Oklahoma City
Margaret Betterton Goodson, 54, Oklahoma City
Ethel L. Griffin, 55, Edmond
Cheryl E. Hammon, 44, Oklahoma City
Ronald Vernon Harding, Sr., 55, Oklahoma City
Thomas Lynn Hawthorne, Sr., 52, Choctaw
Dr. Charles E. Hurlburt, 73, Oklahoma City
Jean Nutting Hurlburt, 67, Oklahoma City
Raymond “Lee” Johnson, 59, Oklahoma City
LaKesha Richardson Levy, 21, Midwest City
Aurelia Donna Luster, 43, Guthrie
Robert Lee Luster, Jr., 45, Guthrie
Rev. Gilbert X. Martinez, 35, Oklahoma City
Cartney J. McRaven, 19, Midwest City
Derwin W. Miller, 27, Oklahoma City
Eula Leigh Mitchell, 64, Oklahoma City
Emilio Tapia, 50, Oklahoma City
Charlotte Andrea Lewis Thomas, 43, Oklahoma City
Michael George Thompson, 47, Yukon
LaRue A. Treanor, 55, Guthrie
Luther H. Treanor, 61, Guthrie
Robert N. Walker, Jr., 52, Oklahoma City
Julie Marie Welch, 23, Oklahoma City
W. Stephen Williams, 42, Cashion
Sharon Louise Wood-Chesnut, 47, Oklahoma City

General Services Administration

Steven Douglas Curry, 44, Norman
Michael L. Loudenslager, 48, Harrah

THOSE KILLED IN SURROUNDING AREA

Rescue Worker

Rebecca Needham Anderson, 37, Midwest City
Athenian Building (Job Corps)
Anita Christine Hightower, 27, Oklahoma City
Kathryn Elizabeth Ridley, 24, Oklahoma City

Oklahoma Water Resources Board Building

Robert N. Chipman, 51, Edmond
Trudy Jean Rigney, 31, Midwest City