9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995
Oklahoma City was changed forever.
A rental truck filled with explosives was detonated outside of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building downtown.
The blast destroyed the nine-story concrete building. It shook the city to its core.
Even if you were too young to remember, you’ve read the news (links here) about what happened. But the news articles don’t really tell you the whole story…
If you ask any Oklahoman, they can tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing, and how they felt. I was in my classroom, finally getting a handle on cursive, and was frustrated at first, because the blast shook my desk and ruined my perfectly loopy “S”. Looking at my teacher’s face, I went from frustrated to terrified in a matter of seconds. My mom was late to pick us up that day. In after school care, older students and teachers were whispering…”a bomb downtown.” My fear grew. It wasn’t until much later that I found out she was the official correspondent for Catholic News Service.
We didn’t go to school the next day. We watched the news. We heard stories. And, we waited, with the rest of Oklahoma, to hear that those we knew were safe.
168 innocent people lost their lives to terror and violence. Hundreds more were injured. Countless were forever changed. Oklahoma City was changed.
In order to understand Oklahoma City, one must understand the people. And in order to understand the people, one must try to understand the effects of the bombing. The people of Oklahoma City came together, worked together, and survived. Despite the pain, sadness, and loss, the people of this city were generous and kind. There was not a single act of looting. We heard and experienced story after story of people leaving meals and clothing for first responders, others opening their homes to complete strangers, and some even bringing food to feed the rescue dogs. Oklahoma City is a community of resilience and one of faith.
Within hours, the security fence became a memorial. People left crucifixes, candles, stuffed animals, t-shirts, and photos. A piece of that fence is still part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial today.
Even people like Sam Presti, who are not from here, have fallen in love with what makes Oklahoma different, why it is a special place to live. He sends new players with the Thunder to the museum to learn about the city’s past, he serves as a Memorial trustee and chairman of the Oklahoma Standard campaign, and he knows that relationships, goodness, gratitude and pride are what make the people of Oklahoma special. (This article is a time investment, but it explains so much about the strength of the city and what makes the Thunder unique.)
Yesterday, on the twenty second anniversary, Catalina and I went for a run to the very heart of Oklahoma City. Approaching sixth street, we slowed. As I walked past the fence and through the gate that reads 9:03, my eyes began tearing up. I pushed Catalina’s stroller up the ramp, from the bustling street into the Memorial.
Hundreds of people were there to pay their respects yesterday afternoon, but there was a stillness, despite the crowd. The gates of time stand on either side of the Memorial; they read 9:01 and 9:03.
The reflecting pool in the middle stands for the minute the bomb went off. To the south, 168 glass and concrete chairs stand, symbolizing the men, women, and children who lost their lives in the attack.
Yesterday, each chair held a rose. Men, women, and families were bent over chairs, laying tokens on their seat. Some were on their knees praying, others weeping openly, many hugging and walking through the chairs.
After the bombing, one lone tree stood on the grounds of the Murrah Building. This tree is a large part of the memorial. The Survivor Tree has become a symbol for the people of Oklahoma City. The Tree stayed alive through the blast and subsequent fires.
The inscription around the tree reads, “The spirit of this city and this nation will not be defeated; our deeply rooted faith sustains us.” It’s endurance and perseverance tell the story of the people of Oklahoma City. It tells all who visit that good will always triumph over evil.
The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon celebrates this triumph, honors those who died, and epitomizes the spirit of this city. Every April, thousands gather near the site of the bombing to run the Memorial Marathon and Half-Marathon. Hundreds of thousands more gather along the course to cheer participants on.
This race, unlike any other I have run or witnessed, is about community. It begins with 168 seconds of silence, honoring those who were killed in the bombing. Firefighters, dressed in their full uniform, run/walk the entire 13.1 miles. Survivors, relatives, and friends wear shirts commemorating the fallen. The streets are lined with encouraging signs, water (and breakfast, banana, and even mimosa) stops manned by various local groups and churches, and families dancing in their front yards. Runners are enveloped by the generosity, kindness, and strength of the people. One can’t help but feel that we are all in this together.
By running in the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on April 30, we hope to remember and honor “those who were killed, those who survived, and those changed forever.” I run to continue the legacy of faith and perseverance. I run because this city never gave up. I run to embrace the spirit of this city. I run for those who can’t. I run to remember.