Clinton reassures nation's children

April 23, 1995|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As 4-year-old Rusty Mawn walked last week into the federal building where his mother works and where he attends day care, the young redhead from Hyattsville was perplexed at the heightened security.

Why were he and his mom being forced to enter through a different part of the building, he wanted to know?

Was it because their usual entrance was "closer to the bomb?"

Rusty and his 6-year-old sister, Allyson, were among two dozen children, most of them the children of federal workers from Maryland and the District of Columbia, who sat cross-legged on the floor of the Oval Office yesterday as President Clinton and the first lady tried to help them deal with their questions and fears about the Oklahoma City bombing.

Using his weekly radio address to talk to children and their parents about the tragedy, in which a number of children were killed and injured, Mr. Clinton told children that "it's OK to be frightened by something as bad as this."

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who along with her husband spoke in quiet, solemn tones, told the youngsters that "there are many more good people in the world than bad and evil people."

"Think of all the police officers and the firefighters, the doctors and the nurses, all of the neighbors and the rescue workers, all of the people who have come to help all of those who were hurt in Oklahoma," she said.

She advised the children, who ranged from age 4 to 13, to talk to their parents, grandparents and teachers about "how you are feeling inside," and perhaps plant a tree or send a letter or drawing, toy or present to children in Oklahoma.

Mr. Clinton, wearing a bright red tie with figures of children on it, spoke mainly to parents, urging them to talk to their children about the disaster.

"At times like this," he said, "nothing is more important for parents to do than to simply explain what has happened to the children and then to reassure your own children about their future."

Citing the advice of experts, he told parents to encourage their children to talk about their feelings, but then reassure them.

"Make sure to tell them without any hesitation that the evil people who committed this crime are going to be found and punished," he said.

"Tell them that I have promised -- every child, every parent, every person in America -- that when we catch the people who did this, we will make sure that they can never hurt another child again -- ever."

He said, "most important of all," parents should go out of their way in the next several days to tell children how much they are loved and cared about.

"We cannot let the terrible actions of a few terrible people frighten us any more than they already have," he said.

Mr. Clinton spent a few minutes after his brief address trying to elicit questions and remarks from the children, but most of them were too bashful to speak.

"It was mean," said one child.

"I think they should be in jail," said another.

"I feel really bad for the people that died and the people that are in the hospital, especially for the parents, because it's really hard to lose a child," said 8-year-old Michaela Doyle.

Most of the children's parents, who also attended the Oval Office address, work at government agencies that had offices in Oklahoma's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Timothy L. Miller of Olney, a Secret Service agent in Washington, said the bombing was "very painful" for him and his family since so many Secret Service agents, including some he knew, were killed in the blast.

"Law enforcement is a dangerous job, period. This just amplifies how dangerous it is," said the father of three outside the White House after the event.

"All of us realize the danger, but the impact on the families is hard to explain.

"We find it very hard to explain to our children a tragedy of this magnitude. We've tried to explain that there are evil people and we can't explain the things that they do," he said.

"But there are more good people than evil people."

His 12-year-old son, Aaron, said he was "surprised someone would do that to innocent people" and "scared 'cause it could happen here -- even in my dad's office."

Another parent, Don Heffernan, who works at the General Services Administration, said some of his colleagues told him that their children didn't want them going to work last week.

Rusty Mawn's mother, Shawn Freeman, a manager at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that she, too, had been grappling with her son's fears.

"He's a deep thinker; he doesn't talk about it much, but then he'll come out with a question," said the Hyattsville mother.

"He wants to know what makes people mean.

"That's a tough one."

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