Tuesday, April 19, 2016

April 19, 1995: why we must never forget

When I first arrived at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building 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 much 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 flood lights 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.
On that fateful spring morning, 168 people died (171 counting theunborn) and hundreds of survivors were maimed and injured, forever scarred. The hundreds of rescuers from all over the world that came those first few weeks will be eternally haunted by what they saw at the site: debris, twisted metal, and shards of broken glass mingled with the smell of death and reminders of those who worked there-purses, pieces of clothing, toys, shoes, and grisly body parts.
"It's worse than the most horrible Friday the 13th movie you can imagine-you can't walk out of this theatre," told me 25-year-old Steve Mavros from the Oklahoma Canine Search and Rescue out of Tulsa. Mavros and his specially trained dog, Bucephalos, were one of the first deployed to the site to identify the location of humans and human remains. "We would have a hit-a human find-but only find a piece of a body."

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.

So 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 here from states all over the country!) 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 downtown, and how crime was virtually non-existent for several days in this city of half a million people. 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.
We will always remember that the stories of human goodness, generosity, and compassion overwhelmed and conquered one despicable act of evil.  

Note: I have written before about April 19, 1995. The above is an edited version of various posts, in this blog and others.  And the photos here are mine, © María Ruiz Scaperlanda. 

For more stories of hope, check out my first book, "Their Faith Has Touched Us: The Legacies of Three Young Oklahoma City Bombing Victims." 

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