April 19th, 1995, I was sitting in a college class in Oklahoma City when the building seemed to shake. We barely noticed it and most of us assumed that it was caused by something going on in the construction area just outside. What I would later find out about that rumble would change my life forever.
At 9:02AM a bomb exploded in downtown Oklahoma City. At first, the cause was was unknown. Some thought it was a ruptured gas line. It turned out to be the worst terrorist attack on American soil which has since been eclipsed by September 11th. It still is the worst domestic attack.
At the time, I volunteered with a local emergency management group. Our main function was weather spotting, but we were also trained in traffic control and disaster assistance. I left my class early to see if there was anything I could do to help, knowing my team would be called for assistance.
I arrived just before noon at the bombing site. What I would see would affect me in ways I didnt’ think possible. As I wandered around the site waiting for orders, I found myself standing on a sidewalk next to where the YMCA playground once was, looking at a deformed tree surrounded by burning cars. I remember vividly looking at the tree with its new shape as decided by the blast and finding hope. I remember specifically thinking that this tree is a survivor.
The devistation was unbelievable:
- 168 lives lost – 19 were children under 6
- Almost 700 people injured
- Over 300 buldings damaged or destroyed
- Countless lives affected including my own
I was there for the first two days, making myself available for anything that was needed. It was so amazing to see the countless volunteers giving of their time selflessly. Oklahoma City came together to show the world that our will cannot be broken. The conspirators who performed that terrorist act may have broken our backs, but they did not break our spirits. In fact, they made us stronger.
Since then, I have only been able to go back to the site twice. Once after the memorial was first opened and once after the museum was opened. It is an emotional place for so many. It is so quiet, even in the middle of a busy downtown. I have driven by it many times and get the same feeling every time. I want to go back to see again, to pray, to remember, and to hope.
Here is a link to the official Oklahoma City National Memorial: http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/
To all the victims, families, and volunteers of the Oklahoma City bombing, I will never forget you or your suport.