On April 19, 1995 Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb planted inside a Ryder truck parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Between the space of 9:01 – 9:03 AM, the bombing killed 168 people, injured more than 680 others, and destroyed one-third of the building. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 other buildings within a 16-block radius, shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings, and destroyed or burned 86 cars……countless lives were forever changed.
There were 21 children in the daycare inside the building that morning, the oldest being 5 years old, the youngest, 6 months. 15 of them were lost. A friend of mine was a fireman at the time and worked to pull the children from the debris. His life and heart irrevocably shattered in ways that he would never again be able to do that job and retired a haunted man.
One of the many items found in the rubble, a stark reminder of innocence lost.
In the aftermath of the blast, children from around the country and the world sent in their own expressions of encouragement and love. That care is immortalized today in a wall of tiles – each hand-painted by children and sent to Oklahoma City in 1995.
A memorial stands on the soil where the Murrah Building once stood.
The Gates Of Time, on either side with 9:01 at one end and 9:03, frame the moment of destruction, 9:02 AM, with a reflecting pool between. Alongside and between the gates set the Field of Empty Chairs. 168 chairs, a reminder of the loss within the moment in between.
On the east end of the Memorial stand the only remaining walls, The Survivor Wall, from the Murrah Building. These walls remind us of those who survived the terrorist attack, many with serious injuries. Today, more than 600 names of the survivors are inscribed on salvaged pieces of granite from the Murrah Building lobby. Among the devestation, a single tree remained. The Survivor Tree.
Nearby Saint Joseph Old Cathedral, the oldest parish in Oklahoma City, was damaged during the bombing and the Parish House for the church was demolished at that time. The Church has erected a memorial on this site. A statue of Jesus stands on the corner, head in hand, looking away from the gate, inscribed…”And Jesus Wept.”
The National Memorial Museum is housed inside the western half of this building. The experience is divided into chapters.
Chapter 1: Day Like Any Other. Begin in the Orientation Theater.
Chapter 2: History of the Site. Explore the Murrah Building and its neighborhood. The rise of extremism in the United States looms.
Chapter 3: A Meeting, Recorded. The drama of 19 April 1995 is then “re-enacted” through an audio-visual installation in a separate room: here a tape of the only known recording covering the blast is played … namely from a business meeting held in the Federal Building that morning – which was suddenly and violently brought to an end by the force of the detonation. Images of victims are projected onto the opposite wall during the running of the audio tape. Chapter 4: Confusion & Chaos. Witness frantic first impressions. Incredible stories of trapped survivors and rescue workers. The first hours investigating a 20-block crime scene with 312 buildings damaged.
Chapter 5: World Reaction, Rescue & Recovery. Enter a fast-paced global news media environment; see Survivor Experience Theater video stories. Witness heroism and the remarkable caring remembered as Oklahoma Standard.
Chapter 6: Watching & Waiting. Rescue and recovery efforts last 16 days as workers sift through the rubble. We see an international outpouring of care and concern. Finally, ceremonies mark the end of rescue/recovery efforts, even as a nation mourns.
Chapter 7: Gallery of Honor. Photos, precious artifacts and videos from family members and other loved ones tell personal stories of the 168 killed.
Various artefacts illustrate the force of the blast – such as mangled pieces of office furniture, documents and equipment. Particularly disturbing is the display of flying shards of glass lodged firmly into a wall. Also amongst the artefacts on display are a heap of watches salvaged from the rubble (not all of which stopped at 9:02, some must have continued functioning after the blast) – and another display cabinet holds a number of shoes
Amongst the exhibits is one set that holds particular horror: one woman was found alive but with her leg trapped under a collapsed beam … and since the beam could not safely be moved it was decided to amputate the leg there and then in order to free the woman. The surgeon performing the operation ultimately had to use his pocket knife to cut the leg off at the knee . The little knife and the tourniquet he used are on display
Chapter 8: Impact & Healing. To contend with grief, many people turn to their faith. The Survivor Tree becomes a reassuring symbol of strength. Visitors leave tokens of remembrance on The Fence. Plans for permanent Memorial begin with family members and survivors.
Chapter 9: Investigation, Evidence & Justice. Track the Trail of Evidence: crime scene photos, the getaway car, parts of the rental truck. Explore the trials, the sentencing and the team that sought justice.
Chapter 10: Responsibility & Hope. Now part of this Museum, the former Journal Record building, left in its damaged state, shows the impact of the blast. An interactive explores choices and consequences. The Memorial Overlook frames the Memorial and the city deeply changed through rebuilding and renaissance.
How my friend, Jean, remembers that day:
9:02am…25 yrs ago…Life changed forever…a deafening blast…shattering windows, buildings, lives…3 blocks away we evacuated….8 flights of stairs…thru broken glass on streets we walked to the bomb site. Bloodied bodies running…people & sirens screaming. Hours under the survivor tree watching rescue & recovery…168 dead. Hugs and tears with my son…ALWAYS wondering what is next.