Sunday, April 19, 2015

we remember... April 19, 1995

For those of us who live in Oklahoma, it is difficult to believe it’s already been 20 years since that fateful April 19th morning when a bomb exploited in downtown Oklahoma City, taking the lives of 168 people and injuring hundreds more.
Everybody here knows exactly where he or she was that Wednesday morning at 9:02. The sound and trembling from the blast. The plum of smoke. Everyone knows someone who was killed, injured, or forever marked and haunted by that one moment in history.
So many of the victims and survivors have become intricate to our shared community narrative—like those family stories that are so intimate, so familiar, that any member can finish another’s sentence,
The baby girl carried out by a first responder and into the arms of fireman rescuer. The woman whose leg was amputated in the midst of the Murrah building rubble. The miraculous moment when the final survivor was pulled out of the rubble 13 hours after the explosion. The mom pleading on television for help finding her baby. The children from the daycare.
It is heartbreaking to say, but I know that the people of New York City and Boston now understand how one incomprehensible evil act can and does forever alter the spirit and essence of one community. There are so many others, like Newton, CT... Littleton, Colorado... Virginia Tech...Killeen, Texas. 
I have no doubt in my heart that in those moments of such massive death and suffering, the veil between heaven and earth becomes so thin that we can, literally, recognize God’s Presence in our midst.
It is important that we remember... that we never forget days like April 19, 1995.
Remember the lives of those who died, not only where they died. Remember the victims' families. Remember those who survived and are still struggling to heal. Remember the stories of tireless rescue workers (many who traveled from other states!) who risked their lives in the still-trembling building to find survivors, and eventually, to bring the dead home.
Remember how there was no looting in that wrecked Oklahoma City downtown—and how crime was virtually non-existent for several days in this city of 500,000. Remember the thousands of devoted community volunteers. Remember how the money turned in after the blast from the Federal Employees Credit Union vault housed in the Murrah building exceeded the money originally held in that vault.

It is important that we remember that the stories of human goodness, generosity, and compassion will always overwhelm and conquer one despicable act of evil. 

Oklahoma City National Memorial
+   +   +   +   +
Five years ago I wrote a blog post on my experience as a journalist covering the Oklahoma City bombing for Catholic News Service.
Here is how it begins:
When I first arrived at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah FederalBuilding on April 19, 1995, to report on the Oklahoma City bombing for Catholic News Service, police lines and makeshift shelters had already been drawn. 
Budding spring gardens had instantly succumbed to military tents, hastily erected to serve as temporary morgue, as ATF/FBI evidence gathering sites, and as a canteen for rescue workers. Law enforcement and fully armed military personnel lined the streets. Breathing masks, bloodied bandages, and broken glass testified to the human carnage that had taken place there hours before. Thick grey dust covered everything. 
Northwest of the building, a block-long square area had instantaneously become an international media center, camera crews mixing with fallen debris, van food vendors, and cars demolished by the blast. Overhead, helicopters circled the downtown radius accusingly pointing floodlights at the empty streets. The sounds of sirens, voices, and motors blended effectively with the humming of drilling equipment at the site, where workers used lighted cranes to continue rescue operations around the clock.