After the OKC Bombing: Our reporter falls apart in a Canadian hotel room

It’s been 20 years since the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

This week local all media is looking back at what happened and what everyone lived through.

survivortree

This tree survived the blast and has been babied and still stands today in the OKC bombimg memorial. A cutting from this tree was planted at the White House

I don’t want to see it.

I saw it all.

The bombing was on a Wednesday and that day I wrote a story about our blood bank.

Thursday I went to a city hospital to interview three survivors. One woman was injured in a nearby building. She was going downstairs and thought the water pipes had burst because she could hear gurgling. She walked outside and an EMT grabbed her and had her lie down.

The gurgling was blood coming out of a wound in her neck. She was one of the first people taken out in an ambulance.

Leaving, I ran into a bunch of international journalists. I knew several from movie junkets and was happy to give them a rundown of events.

Media from around the world formed a satellite city around the worst of the wreckage.

I knew because I was sent there on Friday to interview First Responders. I was allowed to go right up to the police tape bordering the rubble. I got my story.

Saturday I did an interview that I consider to be one of the best things I’ve done. I interviewed the manager of the credit union. She lost 17 members of her staff. She had been teaching a group of young women how to dress for success and that day they were wearing their Easter finery from the previous Sunday.

She would remember this later when husbands began to call and ask if she knew what their wives were was wearing, and she could, because of their Easter dresses.

At 9:02 a.m., she had turned to grab some papers and when she turned around, the women were gone. For a moment, she had no idea where they had gone.

I had her go through her day from the time she got up until she went to bed that night.

I transcribed all the notes I had and I gave her a copy, telling her that the memories that were so awful now would fade.

I’m glad I did that. She later testified at Timothy McVeigh’s trial and had those notes to refresh her memories.

My story was woven into two others – a nurse and a day care worker – to show how that day unfolded.

That story won several awards on its own and was included in the paper’s Pulitzer package.

Sunday I went to First Baptist Church with my mother. Everyone was contributing to a story that would feature the service with Pres. Bill Clinton and the Rev. Billy Graham.

That Monday I got in to see my rheumy. He could see I was worn thin and gave me a steroid dosepak and made sure I had enough pain medication and Xanax to get through the next several weeks.

No one got days off, but my bosses in entertainment decided it would be a good break for me to fly to Los Angeles for two movie junkets, “Crimson Tide” and “Braveheart.”

Word got around quickly that a critic from Oklahoma City was there. It was the strangest thing.

Movie stars Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman and Mel Gibson were asking me what they could do. It amazed me. They asked how I was, how Oklahomans were holding up and again, what could they do to help.

Of course I said they could donate to the Red Cross, and they could autograph several pictures that I could take and give to First Responders. They happily complied.

Several weeks after the bombing, the paper still had stories every day, mostly from the news reporters.

Three infants were killed in the day care center and could not be identified except by DNA. When the results came out, one child was the grandchild of a friend of mine from when I worked at a convention center.

The paper had been treating each obituary of those killed in the bombing as a feature story, making sure that the personality of each person came through the story. I volunteered to do the obituary of the little boy whose family I knew. I thought it might make it easier to talk to someone they had a connection with, and it did.

Writing about a 10-month-old baby is hard. He was just developing his personality, but those smiles and giggles and garbled words are treasures for his mother and grandmother. I wrote the story for them.

As weeks turned into months, bombing coverage continued and therapy sessions – solo and with a group- began.

I thought I was handling myself well until I went to Vancouver for a movie junket.

I had a beautiful room that looked out onto a lavender garden. I had the window open. It was late morning when the explosions started.

I don’t know how long afterward I discovered myself huddled in a ball on the far side of the bed.

I was shaking and crying.

I called downstairs and asked what the explosions were.

“It’s Canada Day and those were the noon cannons firing in cerebration,” the desk clerk said.

“Oh. I didn’t know. I’m from Oklahoma City and they scared me.”

It was that moment I realized I had some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. I still do.

When the fence surrounding the bombed area was the place to leave mementos, it also was the place where the politicians went after the verdicts were handed down for McVeigh and Nichols. I was a cutting edge reporter for those. Our website, www.newsok.com had gone live earlier in 1995 and I was hired to turn in a story within an hour to put up on line for each verdict.

When the undeniably moving Oklahoma City Memorial was opened, I covered the outside ceremony. I didn’t go through it until I had out-of-town visitors. I have been through the chairs twice. I don’t see the chairs and the names on them. I see where the truck was parked, where the half-circle of the building was just gone, the windows blown out miles away, the deaths in several other buildings that didn’t get the same press coverage anywhere but here. When you get to the tiny chairs showing where the day care center was, I start crying and make for the entrance.

A friend from England visited and I took her though with the same results, but this time I was able to show her the survivor tree and point to where the new museum has opened. I told her she could go through, but I could not. She looked at me and said she couldn’t go in either.

I have never been able to go back to the memorial or visit the museum, which I understand is a wonderful and moving place.

It seems I’m still a victim, 20 years later.

This week is a bad one.

 

 

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