Ten years ago on this day I sat working on an assignment for my math
class. I had tested out of a chapter of work and was working by
myself on a project to present to the class.
Sitting in the independent project classroom, we felt the building
shake. At first the teacher told us it was probably a sonic
boom. She used to live near an air force base, and recently on
the news people had talked about the possibility of stationing B2
stealth bombers at Tinker Air Force Base. I thought it could have
been an earthquake.
We looked out the window and saw a plume of smoke, like a brush fire, about 10 miles away.
Around 9:00 am on April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove a Ryder truck
full of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitromethane racing fuel in
front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma
City. At 9:02 am the truck detonated, ultimately killing 168
people, from ATF agents to children in a daycare center. At the
time it was by far the largest terrorist attack on American soil, and
to this day it remains the largest domestic terrorist attack. The
death toll came out to approximately 13 times that of Columbine, the
school shooting that would take place exactly four years and one day
Reports came back to school slowly. We didn’t really know what
was going on, but over time it became clear that it wasn’t
normal. Some students were told that their parents were OK.
Something had happened downtown, and everyone was waiting on more
My mom ran outside, thinking that a plane had exploded in the
air. She had her window open and could hear the blast from 15
miles away. She later went to the local Wal-Mart and saw a
photographer run in to get pictures developed. They need to get
developed now! They need to get to the media…
That day was the first day my aunt was to do court reporting for a
federal trial, instead of the local and state trials she had been doing
before. She sat in court in the Federal Courthouse, immediately
behind the Murrah building, certainly on the side one would rather be
on. Her cassette tape recording of the trial caught the blare of
an enormous explosion, following by frantic voices and the judge
ordering everyone to immediately leave the building because a bomb had
When I got home CNN was showing the same thing as the local news, and
every other channel for that matter. Bulletins were put out for
“middle eastern terrorists” that never panned out. A white
supremacist Gulf War veteran named Timothy McVeigh was arrested for
excessive speeding going north on I-35, away from the blast.
Once everyone figured out that it was a truck bomb, and the dust
settled, people began the rescue effort. From all over the
country, and indeed the world, firefighters, police, medical personnel,
and volunteers poured in to help. Some of these officials would
later die in the September 11 attacks at the World Trade Center.
Robots were used to dig through the rubble in the hopes of finding
survivors. After a few days, these hopes were dashed and families
had to admit defeat.
On Thursday, my parents took me and my brothers downtown to catch a
glimpse. We weren’t going to get close, just get within
eyeshot. It was a media circus. It seemed like every local
news station in America had a van parked there. Police lines were
everywhere, blocking square miles of downtown. Some extra line
was hanging off of a tree and I cut off a piece of it, which I have to
this day. You could see the damage clearly from a mile
away. The mood was somber and quiet and people were moving about
A week later, once all hope was lost, and to further protect the
immediate area by preventing an imminent collapse, the Murrah buidling
was imploded and cleared away.
April 19. The date doesn’t mean much outside of Oklahoma, but
there it automatically means the bombing. A nameless federal
building housing seemingly unrelated federal offices that I had never
heard of was attacked by a man who wanted to avenge the botched siege
by federal agents of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, TX, two years
No one really knew why Oklahoma City should be a target. Everyone
in the nation started talking about the “heartland”. It was
“terror in the heartland”. Where you’d least expect it. The
governor of Oklahoma was on national television constantly, and each
day the police would report to the public the updated tally of those
who had died. It ended at 168.
Months later, the State of Ohio donated some trees to plant at the
State Capitol, one each for the people who died. I was a Boy
Scout, in Troop 78, and I volunteered that day. I was up on stage
during the dedication holding the Oklahoma flag up so that it wouldn’t
fall over in the wind. That was the first and only time that I
heard the names of those killed read aloud. It took about 45
minutes. Many if not most of the survivors were there, as well as
families, planting trees for the people they knew and loved.
Just over six years later, terrorists attacked four planes, New York
City, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania. Perhaps the worst part
about that day was knowing how it would play out, what the aftermath
would be. First off, remember the date, September 11, we’ll be
hearing about this for some time, just like April 19. Second,
there will be a relief effort. People will come from all over to
dig through the rubble in order to find survivors. Third, the
time will come where no one could be expected to live under this
rubble. People will still want to search, but they need to stop
sometime. People will fight to keep looking, but realistically
it’s already too late. And there will be a few key images that
For Oklahoma City, it is usually the firefighter holding the baby, who would die in the next day or so.
Ten years later, things are going a lot better in Oklahoma City.
The other day we were featured on the front page of the B section of
the Wall Street Journal in a glowing article talking about the urban
development, increased tourism, and how well the city had moved past
the stigma of being a victim.
Read more about the bombing:
| Wikipedia | CNN | Oklahoma City National Memorial | Yahoo! |