Anyone who considers themselves an Oklahoman knows this date by heart. They know where they were when they heard the news. They know how they reacted upon hearing that loved ones who worked downtown were — or weren’t — safe.
April 19, 1995 was the day our state (especially its biggest city) changed forever. Somehow, the 25 years since that tragedy have been the best 25 years Oklahoma City has ever experienced.
I’m sure you know the facts about what happened, but if you want a refresher I found this good, short history of it on the FBI website.
The bombing touched everyone in their own way. My experience was not extraordinary, but I want to share it. For starters, it shows how different the world was in 1995 than it is in 2020, especially as it relates to technology and information. Also, my hope for this blog is that it’s something my children and grandchildren read in the future, and this is a significant event that needs to be remembered.
I was in 9th grade chemistry class. Occasionally, maybe once per month, our teacher would turn on the radio if we finished our classwork early. April 19, 1995 was one of those rare days. We usually listened to the morning show on KATT, which featured two guys named Rick and Brad doing the stereotypical morning show prank humor.
Ms. Austin turned on the radio sometime between 9:15 and 9:45 a.m. (the bombing happened at 9:02) and a reporter was giving very early reports of an explosion downtown. I remember my first thought was, “This is a morbid prank for Rick and Brad to be doing.” Within a couple of minutes it was apparent that this was no joke, although details were scarce and nobody really knew what had happened. Ms. Austin left the room in a hurry, and when she returned a few minutes later she turned the radio off and said she wasn’t supposed to talk about it.
The principals at Moore West decided not to make an announcement about the bombing and kept us from watching television coverage of it during school. From talking to friends, I know that other schools even within the Moore district took different measures and many allowed news coverage to be shown.
Still, word got around. There were all kinds of rumors, but very few facts. In 1995 virtually nobody had a cell phone and those that did certainly didn’t have internet on it, so without TV or radio there was no way to get real information about what was going on. All I knew was that there was an explosion downtown. My friend Kevin’s dad worked downtown, so I was worried about him, although I had no idea where exactly the bombing had taken place or how deadly it was. I couldn’t think of anyone else I knew who worked downtown.
I remember turning on the television as soon as I got home from school and watching the coverage. It was a Wednesday so we had church that night. We went to Draper Park Christian Church, but this was no usual Wednesday night class. There were frequent updates on members who worked downtown (like Kevin’s dad Terry, who was fine), efforts to get help to the medical community and those in need, and lots of prayer.
Things moved pretty quickly after that first day. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were swiftly brought to justice. Our next door neighbor was a higher-up in the Oklahoma City Police Department, and he gave me a piece of the Murrah building that weighed about five pounds. It’s an odd thing to have but it’s in our attic somewhere.
Downtown Oklahoma City was a dump in 1995. There was no NBA team, no NBA arena, no Bricktown ballpark, no canal. The Spaghetti Warehouse (RIP) was the only halfway decent restaurant down there and it wasn’t anything special. The whole area looked outdated, run down and unsafe.
The bombing certainly wasn’t singularly responsible for Oklahoma City’s revival, but it was a pivotal moment. We came together as a city and as a state, determined to pick each other up and recover from this tragic event. Soon we dedicated tax dollars and manpower towards making downtown Oklahoma City a cool place to be. Once we got the arena, canal and ballpark, restaurants and bars flooded in. (Now for some reason we have an unnecessary trolley, but that’s another story).
In 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated. Missy and I visited once. If you haven’t been I would highly recommend it. It’s very chilling but extremely well put together. It makes you realize how fleeting this life can be, and also how resilient a community can be when it bands together.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon has been a cool tradition over the last couple of decades, although this year’s run is postponed until the fall because of COVID-19. Missy ran the half marathon twice, once while she was pregnant!
When our kids are a little older, we’ll all visit the Memorial together. It feels weird to commemorate this major anniversary of such a huge event in the history of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City without being able to gather publicly. But such are the times we are living in. We can survive this, just like we survived a guy who tried to blow up our city and our spirit.