OKLAHOMA CITY – At 9:02 a.m. on a bright and sunny day, a car bomb exploded, destroying the A.P. Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Bill Liedtke, a local businessman, was driving south on Interstate 235 (Centennial Expressway). He does not remember hearing anything -- but just after the explosion he crested a rise in the road and saw the dark plume of smoke lifting from the building’s gashed facade.
Immediately, newspaper people like David Fisk and Beverly Bryant, colleagues at the state's largest newspaper, began to cover the story, as did a young country “cub” reporter named Heide Brandes who now free-lances for Reuters. Pam Henry, a television journalist, was ill at home. She switched on the TV and knew the city “had changed forever.”
April 19, 1995 is the day people here can’t forget, even if we try. From among dozens shared with me this week, some stories follow.
Saad Mohammed was working in Edmond, driving a Pepsi delivery truck. He was counting his load when he heard the roar and felt the ground shake.
In Yukon, just west of the city, Julia Seay’s husband had taken their children to Mother’s Day Out when the percussion rattled her windows; she got on the phone with the president of her company, Mary Kay, and began gathering supplies of sunscreen and moisturizer that arrived within hours, to be deployed to the rescuers.
On the west side, David Holt was a student at Putnam North High, preparing to deliver a speech in a student council race. At nearby Putnam City High, a young Hayley Thompson was in drama class. She spent the day with her boyfriend’s little brother, “glued to the TV and waiting for the phone to ring.” Casey Cornett was a sixth grader in English class at Cooper Middle School when the shaking roiled the classroom.
Nearby, Robin Dorner’s apartment rattled, and she thought a car had exploded behind her. Clifton Ogle was teaching in a city public school, and one of his students had to leave to find out if her mother was still alive.
A few miles west of the blast, Carla Splaingard had taken her son to an early morning doctor’s appointment. She felt the thump, and hugged the lad all the way back to their parish school.
Two blocks away from the Murrah Building, businessman Gary Atkinson as at his desk when the shock and roll came. Cody Graves and his two sons were on Fifth Street, driving, as the north side of the building collapsed nearby. Gina Hunt was at work just south of the explosion. She felt it and soon saw horrific images of bleeding victims as they fled.
Chris Budde was still at home, reading the newspaper. She was “chastising myself for not going on my greeting card route the way I’d planned, to the Murrah Building.”
David Tackett was planned to go the Murrah Building to get a replacement social security card, but had overslept in his dorm at the University of Central Oklahoma. The sound woke him up.
Beyond our city, the shock of the devastation drew the world's attention.
Ovadia Goldman was in Detroit, Michigan, shopping for vegetables for Passover. “As a New Yorker I had flashbacks from the '93 twin tower bombing and immediately felt a kinship with OKC, a city that I had not known much about at that time." Years later, he came to town as our Chabad rabbi.
Karen Stark was a Navy wife serving with her husband in Japan. Chatting with a Marine friend, she thought about the future, and said it might be nice to move to Oklahoma City, “where it’s safe" -- words she remembered when she watched the television news.
When Bill Liedtke got to Will Rogers Airport that afternoon, the place was jammed with national reporters arriving to cover the story.
There is no right or wrong in a memory. It just is.
The sounds and sights of that day were followed by funerals for people who were loved and are still missed. Sometimes we best honor them with silence, or the tolling of bells atop the churches downtown, or with the embrace of a loved one, still living.
There is meaning in everything. But sometimes it is just enough to remember.
This week, I learned of another person who was nearby, but like Liedtke, never heard the bomb.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, then Oklahoma Secretary of State, told me he was walking through the state Capitol tunnel from the east parking lot.
He didn’t hear anything at 9:02 a.m., but as he emerged into the main building on North Lincoln Blvd., everything had changed.