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 later.

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 information.

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 gone off.

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 matter-of-factly.

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 earlier.

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 people remember.

For Oklahoma City, it is usually the firefighter holding the baby, who would die in the next day or so.

Photo from Oklahoma City bombing showing firefighter holding a lifeless baby

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! |

Grant Hutchins @nertzy