Remembering April 19, 1995
by Terri Watkins
As we get closer to April 19th, I wanted to share a few memories of that morning.
I had gone to the doctor office. I was just sitting there when the building moved. I was next to the window, looked out and saw the smoke. I got up, walked out and ran to my car. It was a time when the phone was attached to my car. I dialed and got through to the station and told them I was heading downtown. I made it as far as 10thstreet. I got out of the car and started running. I will never forget the sound. The streets, the sidewalks, the buildings were all covered in glass and the crunch of my high heels, something I would regret wearing 12 hours later, is a sound that became part of my memory to the point when I hear breaking glass it immediately takes me back to that morning.
I don’t remember what was planned for that day, I don’t remember what I said on the phone to the TV station. I know they were sending a photographer. Know they were sending a live truck. But all my communications at that point was back in my car. I made it down to the building and began backtracking to meet the photographer.
When we found each other we started live reporting. There were people rushing to the building. There was smoke, there were police and fire and medical crews. I knew everyone was asking what caused it. It’s Oklahoma so the first thought was natural gas but along the way, someone said bomb. I wouldn’t use the until it was confirmed. Who would set off a bomb in Oklahoma City? Then Asst First Chief Jon Hansen used the word. It was official. Someone had detonated a bomb in downtown Oklahoma City killing what we would later learn was 168 people.
When a reporter is live, the action is actually behind them so imagine my reaction when suddenly they were running toward us. A police office said they had found a second bomb. We were ordered to move so we climbed up the iron rail stairs on the outside of a transmission building, yes, still in the high heels, and reestablished the live feed back to the TV station. I didn’t know until later that our feed on the second bomb scare was live on network television. The second scare would turn out to be a piece of dummy munitions stored by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
In the days and weeks that would follow there would be mistakes. The networks were sure it was international terrorists. Oklahoma City was talking about the anniversary of the siege at Waco. Was there one person that rented that Ryder Truck or were there two?
I would spend the next several months in Arizona to talk to militia members, in Kansas to see Terry Nichols home, the hotel, the Ryder truck rental location and even the lake where the bomb was built. My job seemed to be the search for the mysterious why it had happened and why it had happened here.
We can surmise some of those answers but not all.
I talked to Timothy McVeigh. I spent half an hour talking to a young blonde-haired man in an orange jumpsuit trying to understand how this person I was talking to could have killed 168 people. Understand I couldn’t ask questions about Oklahoma City or Waco so we just talked. I believed then as I believe now that he fully understood why he did it and would do it again. He believed in that paranoid fashion that drugs and isolation from differing opinions can create that he had done something he was proud of and would do it again. That is what scares me.
But what he didn’t know and would never understand was the other side of what I saw that day. People uniformed or off the street helping each other, helping strangers in need. Comforting, dressing their wounds, carrying them to safety. There were no barriers. Our neighbors needed our help and Oklahoma, not just Oklahoma City was there. Law enforcement from across the country came. They were feed, they were clothed. They wanted for nothing because that is what neighbors do. Children wrote letters of thanks because that is what we do.
We lost so many that day and have lost others in the days that followed but what we must never lose is the memory of those days. Of how we showed the nation and the world that a tragedy will not define us. It will teach us and allow us to grow from what we learned.
There is an Oklahoma Standard. We created it and we must continue to remember it and honor it. It is something to teach our children and continue to take pride in.
Now, twenty-five years later we are seeing that standard again. I wondered how we would teach a new generation that Oklahoma Standard. Thank you, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, sadly we were given another crisis but we will get through it because the Oklahoma Standard is alive and well.
Good, Terri, you kept pace with the tragic events and the emotions invoked with it!