Service marks 10th anniversary of Okla. bombing

Relatives, rescue workers and survivors recall blast at Murrah federal building

April 20, 2005|By Howard Witt | Howard Witt,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

OKLAHOMA CITY - Inside the church that once served as a temporary morgue for the bodies of their loved ones, relatives of the 168 victims killed in the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing joined survivors and rescue workers yesterday for a solemn remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the crime.

"All of us respect you for the way you've borne tragedy over the last decade and for your great devotion to the memory of those who died here," Vice President Dick Cheney told the audience of 1,600. They were gathered inside the First United Methodist Church, which was heavily damaged by the truck bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building across the street.

Tremendous loss

Former President Bill Clinton, who presided over an emotional memorial service in Oklahoma City four days after the bombing, joined Cheney and reminded listeners that they had overcome tremendous loss to restore their city and replace the Murrah building with a new federal building nearby.

"Oklahoma City mourned its losses, embraced its survivors, built a magnificent monument to honor and remember, and then built the new federal building to serve its citizens and show that a terrorist act could not prevail," Clinton said.

Clinton did not mention that about a dozen employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who lost 35 colleagues in the Murrah building bombing, remain so traumatized that they cannot bear to enter the new federal building. They work in a satellite office several blocks away, but fear that they may soon be forced by supervisors to report to the new facility.

The city's mayor, Mick Cornett, directly acknowledged the wounds from the bombing that remain unhealed.

"I sense a lot of our citizens today are still trying to deal with" the bombing, Cornett said. Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing ranked as the worst act of terrorism on American soil.

Hushed church

The church was hushed at 9:02 a.m. - the precise moment when the bomb exploded 10 years ago - and 168 seconds of silence followed.

Eight children of victims read the names of those killed, several sobbing as they came to the names of their own parents. The poignant scenes multiplied as the crowd, led by bagpipers playing a funereal march, walked across the street to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where 168 bronze and glass chairs are spread across the site where the Murrah building formerly stood.

Like mourners visiting gravestones, family members gathered around the chairs, each named for a victim, placing flowers, teddy bears, notes and photos on the seats.

"It's never easy to come here, but this year it's especially hard," said Janna Broxterman, whose brother, Paul, 42, was in his third day as a new investigator for the U.S. government when he was killed in the blast.

More than 40 New York rescue workers and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks circulated among the Oklahoma City families, sharing stories of grief. One elderly woman, apparently overcome with emotion, collapsed and had to be revived by paramedics.

McVey and Nichols

There was scarcely a mention during the morning's events of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the two disgruntled former Army friends who were convicted of the bombing. McVeigh was put to death in June 2001, at an execution witnessed by many of the Oklahoma City victims and family members, while Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on federal and state charges.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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