[Paleopsych] NYT: In Oklahoma, a Week of Remembrance
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Tue Apr 19 13:50:13 UTC 2005
In Oklahoma, a Week of Remembrance
[The NYT initial story on the bombing and the capture of the alleged
bomber, now taken as a fact appended.]
By JOHN KIFNER
OKLAHOMA CITY, April 17 - The newest exhibit in the big museum here -
the crown jewel, really - is a length of steel about eight feet long,
ugly and twisted, its bulbous center rent by a nasty gash.
"This is the prime piece we waited for," said Kari F. Watkins,
executive director of the museum, the Oklahoma City National Memorial,
pausing amid preparations for ceremonies this week marking the 10th
anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
"It is our prize possession."
It is the axle of the Ryder rental truck, a 1993 Ford with a 20-foot
body packed with 4,800 pounds of homemade nitrate fertilizer and fuel
oil explosives, that Timothy J. McVeigh detonated at 9:02 on the sunny
morning of April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, 19 of them children.
The nation was stunned; it is still the worst act of domestic
terrorism on American soil.
"That piece is why we really got McVeigh," Ms. Watkins said, as
workers, volunteers and visitors bustled about the memorial of empty
bronze chairs on the site of the building - "sacred ground," it is
called - and the adjacent museum, which chronicles the dreadful event
in gripping detail.
It was the vehicle identification number, PVA26077, stamped on the
axle found a block away by local police, that led the Federal Bureau
of Investigation to arrest Mr. McVeigh only moments before he was to
be released from a small town jail 60 miles north on a minor traffic
The bombing was devastating - "Oklahoma City will never be the same,"
a reporter, Penny Owen, wrote on the front page of the next morning's
Daily Oklahoman under a banner headline "Morning of Terror." But this
is now a bustling place, with a spruced-up business district packed
with new hotels, stadiums and a convention center; a renovated factory
area called Bricktown attracting crowds to restaurants, bars and
shops; and an annual arts festival, canceled the year of the bombing,
now running alongside the weeklong memorial.
"We designed this week to send a signal to the world that there is
hope," Ms. Watkins said. The symbol of the memorial is the Survivor
Tree, a once-scraggly American elm that had stubbornly grown in a
parking lot across the street. A car's hood came to rest in its limbs,
which were largely stripped by the blast, but a year later leaves
reappeared. Today, as one of the centerpieces of the memorial, it is
one of the world's most pampered trees, with an elaborate aeration and
Tuesday, the anniversary of the bombing, will be a day of remembrance,
with 168 seconds of silence and the reading of the names of the
victims at 9 a.m., followed by a reunion and barbecue lunch for family
members, survivors and rescuers in Bricktown. There are lectures and
other events each day this week, with a concert on Friday night
headlined by the country star Vince Gill and the fifth annual memorial
marathon on Sunday, attracting some 12,000 runners.
The anniversary will also be a national news event. CNN has promised
all-day coverage on Tuesday along with other special programs. The
network morning shows will have a presence, and Brian Williams is to
anchor the NBC news from here. There are already some 600 journalists
and technicians registered from 87 news outlets, and on the sidewalk
alongside the memorial this weekend workers were banging together
risers for television and still cameras.
"This is the most we've had, including the execution, which I thought
would be hard to top," said Ms. Watkins, speaking of the death of Mr.
McVeigh on June 11, 2001. Terry L. Nichols, the other man indicted in
the bombing, is serving life sentences on federal and state charges.
For many residents here the site is intensely personal. An estimated
387,000 people here, more than a third of the metropolitan area's
population, knew someone who was killed or injured in the bombing, and
some 190,000 people, 19 percent of the population, attended funerals
for the victims. For relatives living here or scattered about the
country, the memorial has become a place of pilgrimage.
About 50 members of the extended family of Mickey B. Maroney, a Secret
Service agent who died in the explosion, were here for a reunion and
memorial on Saturday, gathered mostly from Texas by his daughter,
Alice Ann, who was tearing but composed as hugs were exchanged. A
half-dozen fellow agents, hardly secret in black suits and wraparound
sunglasses, stood at the edge of the group, sharing the sorrow.
"It's about all of us; it's about the journey we've taken the last 10
years," said Jack O'Brian Poe, chaplain for Oklahoma City's police
department at the time and now for the Secret Service field office.
"It's not a journey we would have chosen.
"It's painful, it's painful to do this," he went on, his right arm
draped around the bronze chair bearing Mr. Maroney's name as if it
were an old friend's shoulder. "This was some dark times. But we've
seen the very best. We've seen America come together. We've seen
Oklahoma City come together."
It is that mixed message of sadness and hope the memorial is intended
The memorial is framed by two 13-ton yellow bronze monoliths called
the Gates of Time, with the eastern entrance displaying the time 9:01,
symbolizing the innocence before the bombing, and the western gate
showing 9:03, the time of hurt and healing. In the center, what had
been North Fifth Street has been turned into a shallow black
On the site of the building, a sloping lawn holds the 168 stylized
chairs, bronze with frosted glass bottoms etched with the name of each
victim, smaller ones for the children, illuminated from the bottom at
night. Five of the chairs, for those killed near the Murrah Building,
are slightly separate. The rest are arranged in nine rows, for the
nine stories of the structure, and are placed roughly where the bodies
were found. The area is planted with loblolly pines, which in a decade
are expected to grow to 90 feet, symbolizing the nine stories. On the
eastern side is the only remaining wall from the Murrah building, with
the names of more than 800 survivors etched onto two granite blocks
retrieved from the ruins.
On the sidewalk outside is a remnant of the original "people's
memorial," lengths of the chain-link fence that surrounded the
wreckage. Spontaneously, the fence was decked with all manner of
memorabilia, still periodically removed, catalogued and stored by
museum curators. This weekend was typical: license plates, plastic
children's toys, key rings, bandanas, military and police patches, an
orange and white cheerleader's pompom, and for this occasion, several
wreaths on portraits of victims.
Across the street, at St. Joseph's Old Cathedral, stands a
nine-foot-tall statue of a weeping Jesus. One block away is a monument
of a different sort: the new federal office building, a fortress-like
structure of stone walls and blast-resistant glass patrolled by
Federal Protective Service officers. Scott Pascoe, a National Park
Service official greeting visitors, proudly said the new structure had
been ranked by an architectural magazine as "the fourth-safest
building in the world."
The museum where the Ryder truck axle is housed is in the 82-year old
building of The Journal Record, a local business publication that had
been across the street and whose damaged exterior, with a broken fire
escape and scrawled messages from the rescuers, has been preserved.
The exhibit tells how Mr. McVeigh, fleeing the scene, was stopped by
an Oklahoma highway patrolman, Charlie Hanger, famous locally as a
stickler for traffic rules, who was within a quarter-mile of finishing
his patrol on Interstate 35. Mr. McVeigh's rusty old car had dropped
its license plate and he was carrying a pistol, so the trooper took
him to the Noble County Jail in Perry. The sole judge on duty was
busy, and while Mr. McVeigh waited, the F.B.I. was able to trace the
vehicle to Elliot's Body Shop in Junction City, Kan., and make an
identification. A computer search led to a frantic phone call that
held him for arrest in the bombing.
The museum also gives a vivid picture of how an ordinary day turned
A tape recording from a machine on a plain office table has the voice
of Lou Klaver, an official at the Oklahoma Water Resources Board - its
building nearby was destroyed and two people were killed - opening a
routine hearing on an application number 95-501 by Roy Wikle to pump
and bottle water.
"There are nine elements," Ms. Klaver is heard to say, "that I have to
receive information regarding -- "
The explosion booms, startling even when expected. The room goes dark.
Next is videotape from the local Channel 9 news helicopter circling
over the carnage.
"Wow," exclaims Jesse Gary, a reporter from the helicopter. "Holy cow!
About a third of the building has been blown away!"
At Least 31 Are Dead, Scores Are Missing After Car Bomb Attack in Oklahoma
City Wrecks 9-Story Federal Office Building
This event took place on April 19, 1995, and was reported in the The
New York Times the following day.
CLUES ARE LACKING
U.S. Officials Scurry for Answers -- Reno to Ask Death Penalty
By David Johnston
12 Victims Were Children in 2d-Floor Day-Care Center
In Shock, Loathing, Denial: 'This Doesn't Happen Here'
Gas Fumes Create Panic in Yokohama
Court Upholds Anonymity
Lugar Declares Candidacy
Mayor Wants to End Relief
Washington, April 19 -- The authorities opened an intensive hunt
today for whoever bombed a Federal office building in Oklahoma City,
and proceeded on the theory that the bombing was a terrorist attack
against the Government, law-enforcement officials said.
President Clinton appeared in the White House press room this
afternoon and somberly promised that the Government would hunt down
the 'evil cowards' responsible. 'These people are killers,' he said,
'and must be treated like killers.'
Attorney General Janet Reno, speaking to reporters at the White House
in early evening, said that casualty figures from the scene were
climbing and that of the 550 people who worked in the building, 300
were unaccounted for.
Ms. Reno said Federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty against
the bombers. 'The death penalty is available,' she said, 'and we will
But the authorities said they had no suspects, and questions about the
identity of the bombers swirled around the case. The only solid fact
was the explosion itself.
Some law-enforcement officials said the bombing might be linked to the
second anniversary today of Federal agents' ill-fated assault on the
Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., an operation that ended in a
fire that killed about 80 people, including many children. Among the
offices housed by the Federal building in Oklahoma City was one
quartering local agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms, the agency that Branch Davidians and their sympathizers
blamed for the confrontation.
But other officials said that neither the Branch Davidians nor
right-wing 'militia' groups that have protested the Government's
handling of the Davidians were believed to have the technical
expertise to engage in bombings like the one today.
Some experts focused on the possibility that the attack had been the
work of Islamic militants, like those who bombed the World Trade
Center in February 1993.
But if so, it was unclear why they would have struck in Oklahoma City.
Some Middle Eastern groups have held meetings there, and the city is
home to at least three mosques. But of the estimated five million
Muslims in the United States, 'there's just very, very few out that
way,' said Imam Muhammad Karoub, director of the Federation of Islamic
Associations, based in Redford, Mich, a Detroit suburb.
Several news organizations, including CNN, reported that investigators
were seeking to question several men, described as being Middle
Eastern in appearance, who had driven away from the building shortly
before the blast. There were also reports that the authorities had
interviewed employees at a National Car Rental office in Dallas about
a recently leased truck.
But Federal officials here said they could not confirm those reports.
Indeed, investigators said they did not know whether the bombers were
domestic or international terrorists.
The authorities said the bomb had probably been packed in a vehicle
parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, where the
explosion left a 20-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street.
Officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said they had
not determined the bomb's chemical makeup, which they suspected to be
ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, both easily available substances of the
type used in the World Trade Center bombing. They said the damage led
them to conclude that the bomb, if it was made of ammonium nitrate,
might have weighed 1,000 to 1,200 pounds, about the size of the trade
From offices and bases around the country, Government aircraft carried
to Oklahoma City an array of Federal law-enforcement officials,
emergency management personnel and military forces, an operation that
constituted one of the vastest responses to a crime in American
The firearms bureau sent national emergency teams to coordinate the
examination of the bomb site, the analysis of the explosives and the
search for fragments of the vehicle in which the bomb was believed to
have been planted.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent four special agents in charge
of field offices in New Orleans, Houston, Phoenix and Dallas to manage
the investigative operation.
From Fort Sill, Okla., the Pentagon sent two medical evacuation
helicopters, Army soldiers trained in bomb disposal and two canine
bomb detection teams. The Air Force sent a 66-member rescue squad,
along with two ambulances, from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. It
also dispatched 38 trauma-team members from Lackland Air Force Base
near San Antonio.
Military transport aircraft flew 68 civilian firefighters and a
60-member search and rescue team to the site. In addition, the
Pentagon said about 80 soldiers from the Oklahoma National Guard's
745th Military Police Company were helping to provide security around
the Federal building.
A 24-hour F.B.I. command center with 400 telephones was established in
Oklahoma to coordinate the work of explosives teams, bomb technicians
and portable scientific gear used to analyze chemical residues.
Mr. Clinton learned of the explosion about 10:30 A.M. from his press
secretary, Michael D. McCurry, just as the President was beginning an
Oval Office meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister.
The White House chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, left the meeting
about 11 with instructions from Mr. Clinton to call Attorney General
Reno and make sure that Federal agencies were coordinating their
responses and had all the resources they needed.
The President later dispatched James Lee Witt, head of the Federal
Emergency Management Agency, to Oklahoma, and left the Oval Office
periodically the rest of the day to watch reports from the scene on a
television in his secretary's office.
'Like most Americans,' Mr. McCurry said, 'he was troubled, expecially
by pictures of the children' who had been killed.
The President also discussed the situation with Oklahoma's Governor,
Frank Keating, and members of the state's Congressional delegation.
Later he wrote out remarks in longhand, then went to the White House
briefing room about 5:15 to deliver them to the waiting reporters.
But aides said Mr. Clinton had also felt that it was important to keep
up with the rest of his schedule. So he met as planned with
representatives of three Iowa television stations who had come to
interview him about a conference on rural America that is scheduled
for Ames next week.
Justice Department officials heard early reports of the blast but said
later that they had not realized the extent of the damage until they
watched television accounts from the scene. Ms. Reno spent much of the
day monitoring developments and sent Deputy Attorney General Jamie S.
Gorelick to the White House to advise officials there.
Later, Ms. Reno met with Mr. Clinton, discussing Federal statutes that
might apply to the crime and telling him that a standing emergency
response plan had been put into effect, sending teams of Federal
agents to Oklahoma City.
It is unclear whether the Government had received any intelligence
indicating that any group had been planning an attack, and also
unclear whether there had been any sign of movement like that leading
to the explosion at the World Trade Center.
In the case of the trade center, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, charged with
being the mastermind behind the bombing, entered the United States
under an assumed name, recruited local supporters to carry out the
detail work and then fled the country within hours of the blast, the
Several officials said there had been no threats before the Oklahoma
City blast and no credible claims of responsibility afterward. The
officials added that there were numerous witnesses among occupants of
the building and said the site could yield a wealth of clues about the
chemical composition of the bomb and the identity of the vehicle that
presumably carried it.
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