Today marks the 15th running of the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. The marathon is a fundraiser for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. While many of us were still sleeping on this Sunday morning, over 25,000 people were in downtown OKC to run. They run to remember and honor the 168 innocent lives that were lost when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed on April 19, 1995. The race serves as a testimony that good can overcome evil.
I have reflected a lot on this tragedy this year, the 20th anniversary of the bombing. I think of the lives lost, the victims who suffered and still continue to suffer today, and everyone that was affected on that tragic day. I think of the sheer terror I felt, and still feel, every time I think about it. If you lived in Oklahoma City at the time, it was impossible to not be directly affected or know someone who was.
I was 16 years old on the day of the bombing. It was a busy day for a lot of us, as our school had just had our annual Cancer Fund Drive, and we were now cleaning up after a very successful fundraiser. As a volunteer it had been my job to get helium tanks for balloons, and on that day I was rounding up helium tanks and getting them loaded in my car to return to the vendor. At the moment the bomb went off, I was staring out the window during English class. We heard the sound, and wondered why we were hearing thunder on an otherwise sunny, uneventful April day. Some of us thought it may have been a sonic boom from the Air Force base near by. I pondered it for a moment, but then went about my business, as there were many things to be done that day and I didn’t have time for distractions.
I walked out to the parking lot and got in my car, getting ready to load up helium tanks. As soon as the radio came on, I heard what could only be described as pandemonium on the radio station. People were talking, people were yelling, people were all talking over each other, so much that none of it made any sense to me. In that moment I knew something awful had happened, but I had no idea what it was. I just remembered feeling panic. I remember feeling that I knew something was wrong, that somehow things were going to change. I still didn’t know what exactly had happened, but I knew it was bad.
After the tanks were loaded and my car was parked, I went back into the school. That’s when I heard the news. There had been an explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. The initial report was that the court house had exploded. I immediately was terrified. At the time, my mother worked downtown. I didn’t know the exact location of her building. I just knew she was there, somewhere, and I wondered if she was hurt. The school brought out every TV we had and we all sat in the hallways and watched the coverage. Other than hearing a few people crying, it was eerily quiet as we all watched the coverage. We had all been shaken to our core.
Then the news came out that it had been the federal building that had exploded. At that point I had made my way down to the school office. I was panicking, as were the other students in the office, all of us who had a parent working in downtown OKC. I wanted to talk to my mom. I wanted to call my brother at his middle school and assure him that everything would be ok. I wanted all these things, but they were all impossible at that moment. This was a time before cell phones were a common staple in our lives. Phone systems in OKC were down, not just at the federal building, but in surrounding buildings as well. There was no way of reaching anyone at that moment. There was nothing to do but wait.
See at this point, I was indeed in a state of panic. I knew my mom was downtown, but I wasn’t exactly sure where. I knew she worked for a bank. I knew she had interviewed at the credit union at the federal building but I couldn’t remember if she got the job. I was 16. I didn’t exactly pay attention to that stuff, and my mom and I didn’t exactly have the best relationship at that time. Again, I was 16, and had way more “important” things on my mind than where my mom worked. All I kept doing in that moment was kick myself for not paying more attention, for not being more aware.
Eventually I was able to get in touch with my mom and was able to verify that she was indeed ok. As it turns out, she had interviewed at the credit union 2 weeks before the bombing but did not get the job. I will be forever grateful for that. Our family was fortunate. Others were not. 168 people were killed. 168 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and children. 19 children were killed in the building’s day care center. A girl in my class lost her mother. The pastor at my church lost his sister. Like I said, if you lived in OKC in April 1995, you were affected or knew someone who was.
Our lives were changed forever at 9:02 AM, April 19, 1995. The recovery itself was a marathon, and now, 15 years later, the run serves as a reminder that we are indeed Oklahoma Strong. You can bring us down but we will always come back fighting, even stronger than before. We all still grieve. We all still wonder why this happened, and why all those innocent lives were lost. For me, all I can do is try to still see and be the good in the world, and know that God has a plan for us all, even if we don’t understand it. I will never in my whole life forget exactly where I was and how i felt on April 19, 1995. And I still relive the terror I felt every year. But I also feel grateful, and proud of the city I call home. Oklahoma, you are amazing, and I’m so proud to be from such a strong, resilient, beautiful state!
Congratulations to all the runners in today’s marathon. You all are spectacular and I applaud you!