On April 19th, 1995 I was walking around the muddy fields of the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, Georgia when the rented Ryder truck exploded outside the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was 10:02 in Georgia. 9:02 in Oklahoma.
One hundred and sixty-seven people were murdered that day. More than 600 were injured.
This Sunday marks 20 years.
I was part of an Olympic security exercise. My memory is partial, but I think the main exercise event promised ATF would blow up a car. Twenty years ago that was a big deal.
FBI agents were the first ones to tell us about the Oklahoma events. About a dozen federal agents were participating in the exercise. Most of the time those agency representatives — like rabid football fans – could not stand the people from other agencies. But on that day, when they heard the news their first concern – to a man (they were all men) – was who from their agency, from anyone’s agency, was in that building.
I think that was the first time I saw public safety agencies come together as a community.
I’ve seen it happen a lot since then, but that was the first time.
I remember almost everyone knowing with all but moral certainty that Muslims were behind the attack.
“The betting here is on Middle East terrorists,” declared CBS News‘ Jim Stewart just hours after the blast (4/19/95). “The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East,” ABC‘s John McWethy proclaimed the same day.“It has every single earmark of the Islamic car-bombers of the Middle East,” wrote syndicated columnist Georgie Anne Geyer (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95). “Whatever we are doing to destroy Mideast terrorism, the chief terrorist threat against Americans, has not been working,” declared the New York Times‘ A.M. Rosenthal (4/21/95)…. “Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it’s safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear and a measure of anarchy, thereby disrupting American life,” the New York Post editorialized (4/20/95)….. An op-ed in New York Newsday by Jeff Kamen (4/20/95) complained that officials had ignored “a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City,” and urged that military special forces be used against “potential terrorists”: “Shoot them now, before they get us,” he demanded. Syndicated columnist Mike Royko wrote (Chicago Tribune, 4/21/95): “I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. . . . If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway.”
Except for Twilight Zone episode Number 22, called The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, I believe that was the first time I saw so many opinion leaders go so uniformly crazy, so quickly.
I’ve seen it happen many times since. I expect it to happen again.
Edye Lucas was a 22 year old single mother of two boys, Chase (2 years old) and Colton (3 years old). Lucas worked in the Murrah Building IRS office.
[She] only intended on being up at the office for a little bit to celebrate her upcoming birthday with co-workers. So, she dropped Chase and Colton at the American Kids daycare, planning on only keeping them there part of the day. She remembered walking to the conference room to blow out the candles on her birthday cake when the bomb went off….
“I look back now and I think why didn’t I just stay home,” said Lucas [two weeks ago]. “ Why? Could have, would have, should have – and I didn’t. And what happened, happened.”
“The outpouring of love and compassion from everyone was amazing.” Lucas said that is what helped her and others heal and move on. And to remind them that they are not alone, and that their loved ones will never be forgotten.
She said both the [Oklahoma City National Memorial]…and the museum are a testament to that. And Lucas said she often finds little tokens left behind along the fence or on the chairs for Chase and Colton. And that makes her smile.
“It’s sacred ground,” said Lucas. “And it’s such an honor to have that to memorialize my children forever and ever because it’s going to be there forever.”
Somerset Maugham told this story sometime in the 1930s. The speaker is Death:
There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.
Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threating getsture to my servant when you saw him this morning?
That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.