On April 19, 1995, I piled into the back of an old Chevy along with four other small-town newspaper reporters and made the 45-minute drive into Oklahoma City. It was dark when we arrived at the city’s downtown. The first thing I noticed was the enormous gaping hole of a federal building illuminated by floodlights. When we arrived in the ‘media pit,’ rescue workers told all of us reporters that the last survivor had her leg amputated in order to be pulled from the rubble.
I was 21 years old and, up to that moment, naive.
When the downtown Oklahoma City building was bombed by domestic terrorists, I had never written a news story about late-night building rescues or amputations. I had never visited a hospital’s emergency room filled with family members waiting for news of their loved one’s survival or recovery from the rubble, until that night. I had never attended a funeral in my life until I forced myself to sit through a service for a 60-year-old man I did not know who had lost his life that day in a federal building office.
In thinking about the rescue workers, the hospital medical staff, and the family members hovered in an emergency waiting room, I realized that an explosion lasting only seconds would change the rest of their lives. Some would not sleep for days because of adrenaline and stark memories. Others would reel from horrifying grief. Some would attend their first funeral.
Maybe some of them tucked the details of that day 20 years ago into a box. Pushed it aside. Tried to forget. And years later, when they finally unlocked the box and retrieved what was inside, they realized all the details were still there. Every single memory, emotion, and reality from that day. All of it wedged in there. The only thing lost was their perception of innocence.
When I reflect on April 19 of that year, I think of once being so naive. Then an explosion took away lives, a young woman’s leg, and that sense of safety many of us felt in the American Heartland.
I don’t remember too many details from my 21st year except for that day.
Shanna, this is an amazing and captivating piece on what you experienced on that day and what others there endured. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, Anna. I appreciate you reading it.
Shanna, did you happen to go to the HLAA convention when it was in Oklahoma City? The Federal building was within walking distance of the convention hotel, and I remember going over and seeing all of those memorial chairs on the lawn. Very sad indeed.
Vicki – I was not at that convention, but I have visited the OKC Memorial. It is very sad.
Shanna – you bring back the memories of that horrific day and a reminder to all of us to treasure every day with our loved ones. The Memorial site in OKC is one of the most poignant, sad and important places I have visited.
Thank you for commenting, Rebecca. I agree about the memorial and all that it represents.
Thanks for sharing. That one event has helped shape you into the caring, compassionate person you are today. God knew before you were even born, that you would be there that day. I can’t imagine how it impacted you as a young 21 year old.
Thank you, Connie.
I so appreciated this memory, Shanna. My husband was sent to help with the investigation of the crime scene, and it changed his life. We’ll never forget it. I’d like to share it on Sunday the 19th.
Bless his heart, Jane.
Shanna: I sat next to a guy in a restaurant/bar that was in the Oklahoma City bombing. His nose was clipped off, and he had awful scars on his back and arms-(he had on a cut off shirt), and they did some drastic plastic surgery…but you know he still doesn’t feel or look right. I think he must have been depressed. His family was still in OK, but he was here in Missouri. I didn’t ask too many personal questions, as I had my (ex)-husband with me, but I did get the fact that he was in a time zone, that will never leave him. He talked about the children in the daycare. I can only imagine the terrifying event! I prayed for this man, even though I didn’t know him, only what he told me abut that horrific day. I have not seen him since, I hope he went home to his family.
Teresa – I am glad you were there for him and have lifted him up in prayer.