Fifteen years after the Oklahoma City bombing, we remember both the tragedy and the compassion that followed.
By Guest Blogger María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda
When I first arrived at the site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, to report on the Oklahoma City bombing for Catholic News Service, police lines and makeshift shelters had already been drawn.
Budding spring gardens had instantly succumbed to military tents, hastily erected to serve as temporary morgue, as ATF/FBI evidence gathering sites, and as a canteen for rescue workers. Law enforcement and fully armed military personnel lined the streets. Breathing masks, bloodied bandages, and much broken glass testified to the human carnage that had taken place there hours before. Thick grey dust covered everything.
Northwest of the building, a block-long square area had instantaneously become an international media center, camera crews mixing with fallen debris, van food vendors, and cars demolished by the blast. Overhead, helicopters circled the downtown radius accusingly pointing flood lights at the empty streets. The sounds of sirens, voices, and motors blended effectively with the humming of drilling equipment at the site, where workers used lighted cranes to continue rescue operations around the clock.
On that fateful spring morning, 168 people died (171 counting the unborn) and hundreds of survivors were maimed and injured, forever scarred. The hundreds of rescuers from all over the world that came those first few weeks will be eternally haunted by what they saw at the site: debris, twisted metal, and shards of broken glass mingled with the smell of death and reminders of those who worked there-purses, pieces of clothing, toys, shoes, and grisly body parts.
"It's worse than the most horrible Friday the 13th movie you can imagine-you can't walk out of this theatre," told me 25-year-old Steve Mavros from the Oklahoma Canine Search and Rescue out of Tulsa. Mavros and his specially trained dog, Bucephalos, were one of the first deployed to the site to identify the location of humans and human remains. "We would have a hit-a human find-but only find a piece of a body."
It is important that we remember April 19, 1995. Remember the lives of those who died, not only where they died. Remember the victims' families. Remember those who survived and are still struggling to heal. Remember the stories of tireless rescue workers who risked their lives in the still-trembling building to find survivors, and eventually, to bring the dead home.
Remember how there was no looting in that wrecked downtown, and how crime was virtually non-existent for several days in this city of 500,000. Remember the thousands of devoted community volunteers. Remember how the money turned in after the blast from the Federal Employees Credit Union vault housed in the Murrah building exceeded the money originally held in that vault. We will always remember that the stories of human goodness, generosity, and compassion overwhelmed and conquered one despicable act of evil.
(Photo: And Jesus Wept, located across the street from the Oklahoma City National Memorial.)
Guest Blogger María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda is a freelance writer and author living in Norman, Oklahoma. In addition to covering the Oklahoma City bombing for Catholic News Service, she profiled three young Catholic victims of the bombing in Their Faith Has Touched Us (Sheed & Ward, 1998). She is also author of Edith Stein: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (OSV, 2001), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary of Nazareth (Alpha/Penguin, 2006), and The Journey: A Guide for the Modern Pilgrim (Loyola, 2004). See: www.mymaria.net
Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.