Silence consoles the memories City, nation pause for anniversary of Oklahoma bombing

'Terror will not triumph'

168 seconds of silence, one for each victim, mark tearful service

Oklahoma City: One year later

April 20, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The sun shone yesterday morning, just as it did exactly a year ago, when more than 1,000 people were at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, never expecting the huge truck bomb that ended 168 lives and changed other lives forever.

At 9: 02 a.m. yesterday, survivors and the families and friends of the dead gathered at the epicenter of the blast, the north side of the building site, and listened to something rare in the heart of the city: 168 seconds of silence, one for each person whose bed is empty, who doesn't come for supper, who can never hug them again.

Thousands of miles away, in an icy drizzle in St. Petersburg, Russia, President Clinton, who visited Oklahoma City two weeks ago, remembered the victims, pausing in a ceremony at Piskarevsky cemetery to ask every American to join in that silence.

"We held our words to seal our memories," Vice President Al Gore said here later in the morning. "We prayed for you and with you. America cannot forget and will not forget Oklahoma City. America will not forget the victims, the courage of the rescuers, the service to our nation of the federal workers who died or the promise of the children who left our world too soon."

Federal workers here and across the nation greeted the anniversary with some trepidation. Some said they intended to take the day off. Although no major attack occurred during the day, there were a series of smaller incidents that authorities say might be connected to the April 19 date, the anniversary not only of the bombing but also of the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

A masked pair who robbed a post office in Palmer Lake, Colo., yesterday morning mentioned Waco and 9: 02 a.m., police said. And a bomb threat Thursday night in Texas City, Texas, said that seven explosives had been planted at petrochemical sites; the police have since found two dummy devices.

The cause for the anxiety, the Oklahoma City bombing, remains the nation's worst terrorist attack, and its numbers still have the power to shock: 19 children were killed, 30 were orphaned, and 219 lost at least one parent. So many people were injured that it took the governor's office nearly a year to issue an estimate: 850.

But on this bright spring morning, the overflow crowd of victims and their families who gathered near the federal building site remembered the tragedy the way they had lived it, one by one. They gathered in family groups, singly or in knots of two or three friends -- some limping or using crutches -- in front of the bomb-damaged buildings by the epicenter.

Florence Rogers, a Federal Employees Credit Union director who lost 18 of her 32 staff members in the blast, paused to hug a friend, Brian O'Keefe, and said simply, "This is going to be a much tougher day than I thought it would be."

They listened as a bugler blew taps. Then it was quiet. The silence was ended, as arranged, with a formation of four fighter jets that thundered over the site once to deliver the nation's salute.

"One of the secret truths about our human condition," Mr. Gore told the mourners later, "is that suffering binds us together. Your resoluteness has also taught the world something about the state of our union. In America, terror will not triumph. Let me say it again: Terror will not triumph.

"The reason it will not is because in our nation we settle our differences with dialogue and debate," Mr. Gore said. "We do not steal precious human lives to express our discontent. That is why at exactly 9: 02 this morning, Oklahoma City time, Americans everywhere fell silent."

"We saw the face of evil," said the Rev. Don Alexander, pastor of the First Christian Church. "But we have also seen the face of love and compassion."

"This is a time of remembering," he continued. "But times of remembering are also times that provide a stepping stone, not to what is past, but to what is in the future."

A year after a big yellow rental truck laden with two tons of explosives rolled into the downtown here, many people here say they think of the bombing and of friends who died almost every day.

In a one-year summary issued this week, Gov. Frank Keating's staff estimated that 387,000 people in Oklahoma City -- one-third of the population -- knew someone killed or injured in the bombing and that 190,000 had attended at least one funeral.

Yesterday, as the names of the dead were read, their relatives -- some dressed in mourning, some in their Sunday best, some in T-shirts -- walked onto the building site to kneel for a few moments on the grass and to leave flowers and other mementos behind.

Kathy Wilburn, who lost her grandsons -- Chase Smith, 3, and his brother, Colton, 2, in the federal building's day care center, had brought two teddy-bear angels she had made, with golden halos and golden wings.

At the end of the families' service, which was private, the mourners walked seven blocks through the streets of downtown to the Myriad Convention Center.

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