The beginning of a new work day…
April 19, 1995 – more than 23 years ago – domestic terrorism struck in Oklahoma City. At the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in downtown Oklahoma City a workday was just beginning. Life there, and across America, and the world, would never be the same again.
You enter the Memorial grounds through one of the Two Gates of Time. The east gate depicts the innocence of the time before the bombing, the west gate reflects the time that the horror really set in.
Between the two gates is a reflecting pool that spans the footprint of where NW Fifth Street once was, and where the Murrah Building stood, just to the right as you look west, and where now is the field of empty chairs. It is a calming, yet sobering dedication to the devastation that was wreaked on 168 victims, a country, and a world.
The empty chairs, so strong in silent grandeur, are arranged in nine rows that reflect the floor where victims were working or visiting. Each chair is etched with the name of one of the 168 victims killed that day, and 19 smaller chairs represent the children that lost their lives. Five empty chairs on the westernmost end of the field represent the five people killed outside the Murrah building.
Life in 1995
And then, at 9:02 AM…
From the rubble of the Murrah building, artifacts symbolic of a common way of life, were pulled and are on display. The sheer simplicity has to reach the heartstrings of any who pass through the exhibit – – to not be touched is unconscionable.
In the moments following the blast, those who survived, despite their own injuries, shock and disorientation, immediately started to help in aiding their fallen comrades, helping to bandage the badly bleeding and to just give comfort to those who were worse off while waiting for professional responders. Even as the professionals arrived and took over, these selfless people continued to search and aid in the rescue of the severely injured.
Hope and hopelessness prevailed in Oklahoma City from April 19 to May 4, a span of 16 days with few stories of miracles but always with a community of citizens dedicated to easing the suffering in any way they could.
Images abounded then and till today of the horrific carnage visited upon Oklahoma City, but one photograph became the symbol of the tragedy, of the loss of innocence, and a world that would never be the same again. Little Baylee Almon didn’t survive despite the efforts of the responders, but this image has joined the list of iconic photographs taken over the passage of time.
The image spurs responses from around the country and the world, innocent children reacting to a horror that they could not fathom but that they innately knew, with the freshness of youth, was bad.
The story of Oklahoma City’s bombing cannot be told without reference to the people who perpetrated it. There are those who will say that no story can be complete without the reason why and the people who formulated this horrific act – they are probably right but in this whole exhibit there is nothing but satisfaction at the room that deals with the two suspects and their swift capture. Terry Nichols was convicted in a Federal court of 8 counts of conspiracy, but in a State court was convicted of mass murder and sentenced to 161 different life without parole sentences and is currently serving out those sentences until his death. Timothy McVeigh, the main perpetrator was convicted and sentence to die by lethal injection for the murder of Federal workers in the bombing. That happened on June 11, 2001.
This was not the first mass bombing to occur on America’s soil, but it was the biggest to date. Since then, mass murders have become a regular occurrence in our society, sometimes relegated to a secondary headline in our papers or a third leading story on the evening news. The attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 raised awareness of terrorist threats from abroad and due to vigilant counter-terrorism practices, such an act has not been repeated. But that violence fueled by domestic and foreign actors remains in this country with a life that refuses to give way to common sense. There are people that spur violence in the weak-minded that result in horrific acts of carnage. Mass murders, defined as three or more people silenced by the mind of a deranged human being, has occurred over 91 times since 1982, each act bringing an awareness of the necessity for more comprehensive domestic gun control and yet, each time, swept under the brows of humanity to the point where you cannot even name five of these incidents. We need to put an end to the sorrow, the grief, the inhumanity that comes from each unpardonable act. We need leaders willing to stand up and say enough is enough, to start with a baby step, steps that were never completed by those children and adults in Oklahoma City, in Sandy Hook, in Parkland, in Las Vegas and the other locales that have resulted in over 800 deaths and 1200 wounded, and end with a sensible solution to this carnage. I pray for the souls of Oklahoma City, and I pray for the soul of our nation.
Just recently the founder of Toms, Blake Mycoskie, made an announcement that his firm would be making over 5 million dollars worth of contributions to entities in favor of passing sensible gun control. This link replaces my usual recipes and I hope you can find the time to at least read the article.