It gets harder: Final goodbyes begin MOURNING IN OKLAHOMA

April 25, 1995|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,Sun Staff Correspondent

GUTHRIE, Okla. -- Six-year-old Zachary Eckles stepped up to the tiny coffin in a wind-swept cemetery here yesterday, placed a single white flower on top and said goodbye to one of the littlest victims of last week's bombing -- his 4-year-old sister.

Ashley Eckles, with blond bangs and blue eyes and a face full of promise, died on the first floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on Wednesday while waiting in a Social Security office with her grandparents.

Both grandparents are still missing.

"She was sweet as sugar," her father, Steve Eckles, 43, said yesterday, sobbing as he clutched a collection of snapshots of his only daughter. "She was my bundle of joy. She was so loving. So happy. She was my shadow. Now she's gone."

Oklahoma began the sorrowful task of burying its dead yesterday. In Oklahoma City and in smalltowns, people shaken by the tragedy poured into churches and huddled around gravesites, praying for those they lost and comforting the families and friends the dead left behind.

With only a few bodies being pulled from the wreckage each day, the church services and funeral processions could last for weeks, a drawn-out and painful ending to the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

For those left behind, all funerals are hard. But hardest are the ones for children like Ashley.

Those who knew her said she was a ball of energy, she loved dogs and cats, water theme-park rides, and her older brother. She and Zachary shared their toys, agreeing what to buy before they were purchased, her father said. She followed her mother and father around like a doting puppy.

"She loved her kitten," her father said.

The day of the bombing, the cat, Jingles, delivered a litter of kittens. Ashley never saw them. Then, the day rescue workers found her body trapped in the rubble, one of the kittens died, said her baby sitter, Jeanette Apala, 15.

"She's part of my heart," she said. "I can't handle that she's gone."

Wednesday morning, Ashley went to the federal building with grandparents Luther Treanor, 62, and LaRue Treanor, 56. Mr. Treanor, a retired tire factory worker, was filling out forms to start collecting Social Security payments when the bomb exploded about 50 feet from the first-floor office.

On Friday, the family received a call from the coroner's office asking them to come downtown to the First Christian Church. For days, the church has been where families crowded to wait for word on people missing in the destroyed building.

"When I heard they wanted to talk to us . . . we knew," said Mr. Eckles. "She went in a flash. It was so painless."

He said the coroner's office identified Ashley through dental records and footprints from her birth certificate.

Mr. Eckles, who is divorced from Ashley's mother, Kathleen Treanor, and manages a restaurant in Salina, Okla., said he has thousands of photographs of his two children. During yesterday's service, slides of many of them were shown. One pictures Ashley beside a Christmas tree last year, holding up a present. It's a comb and brush set.

"She loved to comb her hair and my hair," Mr. Eckles said. "She was a little beautician."

In the hours before yesterday's funeral, workers dug two graves at the Summit View Cemetery three miles from downtown Guthrie. This town of Victorian homes and red brick and stone store fronts, hotels and banks, is the former capital of Oklahoma. Founded in the late 1890s, it was a gateway to West, where prospectors picked up land grants and headed out to settle the nation's territories.

Workers Jimmy Jacks and Lee Pearson dug the first grave for Elizabeth York, who died of natural causes at 90. The second was for Ashley.

"It makes you think," Mr. Jacks said, leaning on his spade, which was coated in red clay. "This little child was just starting to live. It doesn't seem fair."

In a small, one-story red brick church in the rolling hills on the outskirts of Guthrie, nearly a hundred mourners prayed for Ashley and then slowly filed into their cars and trucks for the long ride to Summit View.

Under a dark green canopy with white trim, the Rev. Rex Haymaker told those crowded around the gravesite that Ashley was with her grandparents the day she died, and she is probably with them now.

"God has a way of taking care of his children," he said.

"Her soul is in heaven today. She's not suffering anymore. She's in a far better place."

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