Remembering the Oklahoma Bombing
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BETTY ANN BOWSER: (church bells ringing) It has been almost a whole year, and yet, people still come, sometimes by the hundreds, to what was once the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. They stand and they stare. Where there once was concrete, glass, and steel, today it’s an enormous empty hole that punctuates the downtown skyline. There’s not much left to see, yet, people come to pray, some to mourn, some to leave tokens of feelings on chain link fence–poems, ribbons, wreaths, pictures, crudely-formed crosses made from twigs, most of all, teddy bears. They take pictures and tell their children what happened here at 9:02 AM on April 19, 1995. And some are overwhelmed by what they feel.
MAN ON STREET: The whole time I’ve been walking through here, I’ve felt nothing but chills. I mean, it’s just a horrible thing, and it’s still horrible a year later.
WOMAN ON STREET: When you get down here, I think it hits you and all the feelings and the emotions come. You can think about it, but then when you get down and see it, I think it makes a difference.
GIRL ON STREET: (crying) I met a little boy whose mama was killed in this, really, and I’ve just started thinking of him and all the other kids and stuff who lost their parents, and all the parents who lost their children, just everyone, anyone who lost anybody.
BUD WELCH, Victim’s Father: Julie Welch’s father. She was 23-years-old.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bud Welch hasn’t missed a single day at the bomb site since his daughter died. This week, he helped unveil a temporary memorial, an informational sign that shows visitors what the Federal Building looked like. For the last year, he’s poured his grief into community activism, and he says that’s helped, but the feelings he fights so hard to put behind him keep coming back.
BUD WELCH: The other morning I had a dream that I had to get up and go, go the airport. I went to the airport. I waited for everyone to de-plane, and Julie wasn’t there. And I woke up just in tears. And, of course, when I woke up, reality had hit me that Julie, indeed, was dead.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One year ago, City Church, just 10 blocks from the bomb site, had more than a million dollars in structural damage to deal with. Precious stained glass windows were blown in by the blast, a huge overhead skylight was nearly a complete loss, and if that wasn’t enough, parishioners had lost some of their own to the bomb.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Today, City Church has undergone a massive reconstruction. The stained glass windows and skylight have been laboriously reassembled from pieces picked up by hand after the bomb blast. The church has been renovated inside and out with new carpeting, a sound system, and gold gilding, but there is still work to be done.
REV. RICHARD HOGUE, Pastor, City Church: I don’t think we’re going to be ready to move on for a while. I don’t think frankly that we’re going to be ready to move on until the trial is over. I don’t think we’re going to be ready to move on until we really know what has happened, and sometimes I get a little upset about folks who want us to move on real fast. You know, you can’t know what you’re forgiving until you know what’s happened. You can’t know what you’re forgiving until you know who to forgive, and if you can’t forgive, you certainly can’t move on, isn’t that right? And I know there are people who are seated in this audience this morning who have experienced the bomb not just as most of us did collectively but there are many people in this audience today who experienced that bomb individually.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Chris Fields experienced the bomb in a way he’d like to forget, but the world won’t let him. He is the Oklahoma City fireman whose image burned its way into international consciousness when an amateur photographer captured him cradling the lifeless body of little Bailey Almon, a picture that recently won the Pulitzer Prize. Fields is uncomfortable with his celebrity but says it has rekindled his Christian faith. Six months ago, he joined City Church.
CHRIS FIELDS, Fireman: I was a good Christian on the outside, but the inside, it wasn’t there. But this makes you reevaluate it, and as I reevaluate it and think about it, God put me where I was that day for a reason.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But thousands of other Oklahomans have not made peace with the events that unfolded on April 19th, because so many people were affected. One hundred and sixty-eight dead, nineteen of them children, eight hundred and fifty people injured, many permanently disabled. Out of a city of 1/2 million people, nearly 20 percent of the population attended at least one funeral, but out of all of the rubble stories of success and recovery have emerged.
MIKAILA ENRIQUEZ: (singing) Somebody’s hurting not too far from here. Help me, Lord–
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Mikaila Enriquez is a nine-year-old contemporary religious singer who a year ago was a virtual unknown. In the days after the bombing, she sang a called “Not Too Far From Here” in churches all over Oklahoma City. It touched a sensitive nerve with people here, and when music promoters in Nashville saw her on a national television program, they signed her to a record contract. This week, her family released her first Christian album. Most of the proceeds will benefit children who lost parents in the bombing. Meanwhile, she continues to make national appearances–last week at Dr. Robert Schuler’s Crystal Cathedral in California. The song continues to be an anthem for many Oklahomans.
MIKAILA ENRIQUEZ: After the bombing, it was just a perfect song. It was just perfect. So many things, people are hurting out there, and Jesus is waiting.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you think people are still hurting today?
MIKAILA ENRIQUEZ: Yes, because I think people will never get over this day, but they need to try to go on with their lives.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dr. Kay Goebel is painfully aware of the need for people to move on. For the last year, she has been a psychological counselor to people involved in the disaster. She is also chairman of the Oklahoma City Arts Festival which last year had to be cancelled. The city lost more than $1 million in sales tax revenue alone. But the festival will take place next week, a sign of recovery for a city full of people who have been through a terrible year.
DR. KAY GOEBEL, Psychologist: People, when they go through a time like this, they discover strengths they never knew they had, and many times come out on higher ground, with more depth and maturity and power in their lives than they ever had before.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One of the people Dr. Goebel had in mind is Kathleen Traenor, who one year ago was frantically trying to find her missing four-year-old daughter, Ashley Eckles and her mother-in-law and father-in-law.
KATHLEEN TRAENOR, Victim’s Mother: (April 21, 1995) And my baby girls, she’s younger here. She’s three and a half. Her hair is just a little bit longer than that, but for the most part, that’s her.
REPORTER: What’s her name, ma’am?
KATHLEEN TRAENOR: Ashley.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was rescue workers, not reporters, who eventually found the bodies of Traenor’s four-year-old daughter and her husband’s parents who that morning had gone to the Social Security Office in the Federal Building. One year later, she still grieves.
KATHLEEN TRAENOR: Ashley was just a very typical four-year-old. She was a happy, well adjusted, loving little girl, always had a smile and a hug for everyone. What I grieve for is what we’re going to miss. There won’t be a first day of school for Ashley. There won’t be any proms. There won’t be any wedding. I won’t be able to teach her how to sew or cook or do anything that my mother taught me. All the things that a mother and a daughter would do together are gone for me now. I haven’t got that anymore.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Traenor does have a full-time job now and a busy schedule of community activities to help fill the void. This week, she spoke at a luncheon to unveil a quilt bearing the pictures of all those who died on April 19th.
KATHLEEN TRAENOR: We have choices to make now. We have two choices. We can bitter and angry and we can shake our fist at each other and at God and demand to know why, or we can let go of that anger, give it to God, and count our blessings.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Traenor has transformed her anger into work on a community task force that will build a permanent memorial at this place where more than 1,000 lives ended or changed forever. City leaders have deliberately left the neighboring Journal Record Building as it was moments after the bomb to remind visitors what destruction took place. It may someday become part of a permanent tribute. A mission statement Kathleen Traenor helped write says: “May this memorial offer comfort, strength, and serenity.”
KATHLEEN TRAENOR: I think this is a time that we can each in our own hearts come to whatever kind of comfort zone we need about this event that happened a year ago. I think it’s, it’s something that each of us are going to have to deal with on our own, and each of us are going to have an experience there on that, on that day that is unique and individual. For me, I’m not going to say it’s a final good-bye, but I’m going to say it’s a step into the future, it’s a step into hope. I’m really looking forward to getting beyond April 19th.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Tomorrow Traenor and hundreds of people who have survived the pain of this past year will take part in a memorial service. There will be 168 seconds of silence to honor the dead. And although it may be a time for sadness, she hopes it also marks a new beginning.