Silence Of 168 Seconds Recalls Victims Of Oklahoma Bombing

Davidian Survivors Also Mark An Anniversary

April 20, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The grass-covered spot where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood was empty yesterday at 9: 02 a.m. It remained so as Oklahoma City paused to observe 168 seconds of silence, one for each person killed in the bombing on this date and at this time two years ago, and for a few moments more as the pealing of church bells broke the quiet.

But during the next half-hour, as the name of each victim was read aloud at 10-second intervals, and family members and other loved ones walked onto the site on this warm Oklahoma morning, the field was slowly covered up by people and the flowers they placed on the ground.

Some on the field had tears streaming down their faces; others wore hollow stares.

Some children laughed and ran around; others tugged at the adults as the naming went on and on, wondering when it would all be over and they could go home.

And then, as the name of victim John Youngblood was called, and having concluded the "Remembrance" portion of yesterday's official ceremony, the several hundred people who showed up turned to the second part of the observance: "The Future of the Site," as it was described in the program.

From a field of 624 entrants from around the world, five finalists were announced for the competition to design a permanent memorial at the spot.

The memorial is intended to do a number of things -- pay respect to the dead, honor the survivors and the rescuers, conjure up the impact of violence in all its forms, and provide a place for children that offers them "assurance that the world holds far more good than bad," according to the mission statement drawn up by the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit group overseeing plans for the $8.8 million, 3-acre memorial.

Oklahoma City has already been through plenty of debate over how and even whether any memorial could do all those things, and will probably endure more before the winner is announced July 3.

About halfway through the 168-second period set aside for silence, there was an eerie reminder of the events two years ago.

The horns and sirens of a fire engine could be heard just a few streets away, which fire officials later said was a response to an unrelated emergency call.

At the ceremony, a letter from President Clinton was read, which said in part: "With the destruction of the Murrah Federal Building, we learned once again that America is a family, and such a brutal attack on any American is an attack on us all."

Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating urged visitors to leave any item they wished -- a poem, a picture, a toy -- at the fence surrounding the building site. "That fence has become our shrine," he said, "and it is fitting that on this second anniversary we adorn it with tributes and memories."

Kathleen Treanor, who lost her daughter, Ashley, age 4, and her parents-in-law in the bombing, said she believed that such ceremonies should continue every April 19. "We will always feel a need to mark this day," she said.

In Washington yesterday afternoon, a handful of demonstrators clamored outside the White House, demanding a special prosecutor to investigate the botched FBI raid that a banner proclaimed "killed a village" outside Waco, Texas.

Clinton said nothing yesterday to mark the dual anniversaries of the fiery Waco standoff four years ago and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

In contrast to commemorations of previous years, Clinton kept his role deliberately low-key this year in deference to the judge's gag order in the high-profile trial of Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy J. McVeigh.

The Oklahoma bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the fire at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, in which about 80 members of the religious sect were killed.

Yesterday, at the site of the former compound, a group of Davidians held a memorial service to commemorate the dead. At the service, led by Clive Doyle, leader of the largest remaining group of Davidians, speakers included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Dick DeGuerin, the lawyer for sect leader David Koresh, who was killed in the blaze.

"Here on this site is the symbol of the struggle for religious freedom and the right to love in our society," Clark said.

The siege by federal agents has been described by prosecutors as one that enraged McVeigh and spurred him into what he is said to have envisioned as an act of retaliation against the federal government.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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