Monday, April 19, 2010

The Murrah Bombing Remembered

Time to remember.

Fifteen years ago. I was on detail to the Examination Division at the IRS building on Robinson. My morning routine included a trip across the street for coffee. I had some books on reserve at the library less than a block from the Murrah building and I'd checked to see if they were in - I wanted to go by when I went out for my coffee and pick them up if they were in but they weren't so this would be just a coffee run. I went out, got back, and was just setting my coffee down when we heard the boom and then the building swayed and then stopped. We all looked at one another, puzzled. Had something crashed into the building? There was a loading dock that could be tricky and if the truck were big enough. . . We went to the window see what we could and to the north, in the clear blue April sky, we saw a great white shining cloud of fluttering papers, like some huge flock of birds. (Clara would describe it as silver.)

I had a radio on my desk and the reports soon came in of an explosion near the Federal Courthouse - not a week or so before, a construction crew had accidentally broken into a gas main. That must be what it was. And then the reports began to change and we learned the explosion had come from the Murrah building just north of the Federal Courthouse and I thought about the children there at the daycare.

We'd moved Rachel from that daycare 18 months before. We wanted her closer to home - we no longer took advantage of having her being just down the street from us and we knew some day we'd have to move her to a daycare closer to home when she began school. At 18 months, we thought it was time. But we still knew some of the kids who went to the Murrah building daycare, knew that all or most of teachers there we had once known had moved on because of a shake up of the teachers. A new crew was there but we didn't know them. Still, we had intimate knowledge of the daycare. We hoped everyone was all right.

The reports filtered in. Some of us had spouses in the Murrah building were pale with fright when we started getting reports that the explosion had been more massive than we had imagined. Still no reports of anyone killed, pointed out. So maybe things weren't so bad.

I joined others out in the street where we strained to see what was going on to the north of us e but all that was visible was a traffic jam up Robinson towards the Murrah building. Impossible to tell what was going on but maybe it was as big as the news was reporting. They can exaggerate, you know. And there's some smoke but no flames. Maybe it wasn't bad.

The downtown streets began to back up with traffic and we got the word that we should all just go home. But the traffic was gridlocked. We weren't going anywhere. We might as well head up the street to see what we could see. Up Robinson we went but the street was closed down, so we headed a block West, through the alley between the old Oklahoma County Jail and the Oklahoma County Courthouse. The pavement was covered with shattered glass. It was strangely quiet, except for the sirens. Still a beautiful morning and we joked about the chance to be out in it.

We made it to Hudson and started north. We could see the south face of the Murrah building; it appeared intact. See? Things weren't so bad. We kept up the light jokes, but still nervouse about how things could be. We made it to Dean A. McGee, then fourth street and then we finally reached 5th street and looking to the East we finally got a good. long look at the north facade of the Murrah building.

It was so strange to see. So unreal. You could see daylight between the floors where daylight shouldn't be. A huge pile of rubble. Smoke. Emergency vehicles. Crowds of people. We tried to make our way closer but were told to go back; later we'd hear the rumors of another explosive device. And then we found a vantage point where we could get a fairly safe and clear view of what was going on and then we just stood there and watched in silence.

There was the side of the building where we had once seen Rachel at the window, waving goodbye to us after we'd dropped her off. We knew the people in the credit union where we had financed our cars, had cashed in our savings bonds to put the down payment on our home. We knew someone in the Social Security office who'd cut through the red tape to get Rachel her Social Security Number. Her son was still going to the daycare, we thought. Clara knew people she'd worked with at the Government Services Administration. We didn't know what had become of them, not then, not yet. We'd learn gradually over the next few days.

Traffic was finally moving and so we gradually wandered off to find our cars. We got out of downtown, went to Clara's parents house to let them know we were okay. And then we got Rachel, safe at the daycare near our home. Her teachers had heard but the kids hadn't, of course. Rachel was delighted to see us so early but not nearly as much as were to see her. When we first brought her to this daycare, Rachel had had a hard time adjusting. She cried and cried that first week, she cried herself hoarse, something she had never done before or since. We had seriously thought we'd made a mistake and thought about moving her back to the Murrah building daycare. But she adjusted and things were fine and she ended up going to that daycare until she was in the fifth grade, when I'd leave the IRS shortly after 9/11. That day, though, we took her to see A Goofy Movie because the news was just too terrible to hear. Clara and I were distracted throughout the movie; Rachel laughed and laughed.

Our friend in the Social Security office had not come in that day. Her son was sick. Most everyone we knew at the credit union had died. So had many of those Clara had known at the GSA. There were only two kids in the daycare that Rachel had been there with; Brandon Denny, and his sister and they survived. We knew others who had died, others who had lived but then most everyone in Oklahoma City had some kind of connection to those victims of the bombing. We're no different than them.

Timothy McVeigh, the psychopath behind all of this death and destruction, is dead, his ashes scattered at undisclosed location. His co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, is well-cared for in prison in Colorado.

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