Some 1,600 people inside the First United Methodist Church fell silent at 9:02 a.m., marking the moment when a truck packed with explosives detonated next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, collapsing half of it in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil up until that time.
Survivors, family members of victims and mourners were silent for 168 seconds — one second for each person who perished in the bombing, carried out by Timothy McVeigh to protest the federal government.
Some people brought teddy bears and flowers to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, located where the Murrah building stood, which features 168 empty chairs to mark the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
“The United States has known times of sadness both before and after the Murrah building was attacked,” Vice President Cheney told the crowd gathered in the Methodist Church, next to the memorial. “Yet that spring morning 10 years ago is still deeply etched in our memories.”
“We want to remember April 19, 1995,” he said, “not merely because great evil appeared that day, but because goodness overcame evil that day.”
Former President Clinton, who was in office at the time of the bombing, also spoke at the memorial, reminding mourners that “by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy. The tomorrows come almost against our will. And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities.”
“Ten years later we still grieve and remember,” he said. “But we should be very proud that Oklahoma was not paralyzed by its pain or hardened by its hatred.”
One mourner, Juanita Espinosa, wiped away tears as she stood in front of the empty chair for her cousin, Zackary Chavez, who died at the age of two and a half in the blast.
“They found his head one week, and his body another week,” she told the Associated Press. “It’s still too much to think about.”
Nineteen of the victims were children and an estimated 387,000 people in Oklahoma City, more than a third of the population, knew someone who was killed or injured in the bombing, The New York Times reported.
One bus brought 53 people to the ceremony, all wearing T-shirts with victim LaKesha Levy’s photo on the front and the words “a shared experience.” Levy’s aunt, Gail Batiste, said friends and family came from all over the country to remember the outgoing 21 year old, who had gone to the building the morning of the explosion, to get a Social Security card, the AP reported.
“It’s good that Oklahoma remembers,” Batiste told the AP.
The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001. Conspirator Terry Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on federal and state charges.
Since the bombing, residents of Oklahoma City have worked to rebuild the city and their lives.
Larry Whicher, 44, of Russellville, Ark., said time had tempered his grief and his anger over the bombing, which killed his brother, Alan Whicher, who worked in the Secret Service office, the AP reported.
“You learn to accept it. You can’t change it, so why carry that bitterness for your entire life?” Larry Whicher said.
Survivor Amy Petty, who worked on the third floor of the Murrah building, expressed a similar sentiment. Petty was buried under rubble for six hours, but lost 18 of her 33 coworkers in the bombing.
“I miss them dearly,” Petty told ABC News. “That doesn’t mean that I need to stop living my life. I’ve got to live.”