By Alyssa Sperrazza, News Editor
The infamous three minutes that changed a city, a state and a nation 22 years ago today are still remembered; a normal spring morning ended in a pile of rubble when Timothy McVeigh targeted the Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Shawnee resident, Peggy Rider lost someone that day.
Her older sister, Carrol Fields, was among the 168 killed Wednesday, April 19, 1995.
Growing up in Shawnee and a graduate of Shawnee High School, Fields had gone on to work for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
“She’d been there since she was 19,” Rider said. “She was their office manager. She set up all their security features for their office, put in the bulletproof glass and all that to prevent people from just walking in on them.”
No one imagined office security would need to include safety against homegrown terrorists though. An attack like McVeigh’s was unprecedented, leaving a state confused and in shock.
“I was working that day and was training a girl from Tecumseh and we were on our way over [there] when I heard about it on the radio,” Rider said.
“That was the first I’d heard about it and I guess it was about 9:30 a.m. And I said, ‘what are they talking about?’ and she said, ‘well there was some bombing of some government building in Oklahoma City,’ and I said, ‘what was the name of it?’ She didn’t know really know but she said it was ‘Murray or Mur something’ and I said, ‘the Murrah building?’ and she said ‘yes’. I knew that’s where [Carrol] would be.”
The initial panic after 9:02 a.m. left many families scrambling, trying to get in contact with loved ones who were in the area.
“We spent most of that morning trying to get ahold of her because we were hoping she was one of the ones that got out,” Rider said. “It dragged on for several days. It was actually that next Monday night before they found her. Her office was on the top floor… when they found her she was in the basement.”
Facing the street where McVeigh parked his truck, the blast of the bomb took out a chunk of the building, including the office where Carrol worked. Medical reports stated she died instantly.
“She really didn’t have a chance to make it out,” Rider said. “But we spent thinking everyday, up until they found her, that they were gonna find her still alive somewhere… that there was still that chance.”
The miracle story Rider’s family hoped and prayed for was not different from what many families were wanting. And, like others, Rider’s family received the worst possible news that Monday evening.
“DEA came all to our houses individually and notified us that they’d found her,” Rider said. “They were really good, that whole time, through everything, on making sure the family was taken care of.”
Watching the events unfold from Bison Hill, students, faculty and staff were limited in what they could do.
“We had several pastors in Shawnee who were felt like we needed to do something common,” Dean of Students Odus Compton said. “And then that night, we had a Shawnee community prayer and kind of service led by I and some other people led in Potter [Auditorium]. Invited all the local churches to come and it was full. There was a lot of people in there, I mean there was some sense of people just wanting to be together.”
Compton remembered two OBU students, who upon hearing of the terrorist attack, went to Oklahoma City immediately, hoping they could help.
“[I] found out that evening that we had two students that had, soon as they heard, they got in a car and started driving to the city,” Compton said. “They [went] in behind the police barricades before they were put up. Like they just pulled up and got out of the car and walked in and started just helping”
Recalling stories that he had heard, Compton spoke of one instance that cannot be forgotten.
“There was a highway patrolmen who went to church at Immanuel [Baptist Church] that was one of the first responders there and he told his story years later,” Compton said. “Big ole, he’s like 6’5’, just this massive looking guy. He was one of the people that carried several of the children out. He said. . . he’ll wake up in the middle of the night and his arms are just aching and he realizes he’s clenching, dreaming and remembering [carrying the children out].”
“I don’t know if he does now but for years, on Sunday mornings, if you want to know where he was, you walk down the hall in children’s wing and he was on the floor, and again he’s this big ole massive guy, just letting two and three year olds climb all over him,” Compton said. “Being around kids that are alive after carrying several children out… it just was difficult for him.”
People across the country felt the weight of the attack and shared the same horror when seeing the aftermath.
“I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the Baptist Student Union (BSU) Director at the University of New Mexico (UNM) at the time of the bombing,” Dean of Spiritual Life Dale Griffin said. “When I entered the office, another student had the TV on in my office revealing scenes of the aftermath of the bombing. My attention turned almost immediately to my parents who lived ten miles south of the Murrah building. The day I saw the helicopter view of Oklahoma City from a TV in my BSU office across from UNM reminded me that at heart, I am still an Oklahoman.”
The need was great in the aftermath of the attack and, out of something terrible, came something good.
“The Oklahoma City Bombing, The Murrah Bombing, it kind of raised the awareness [about disaster relief], particularly among churches and specifically among Southern Baptists,” Compton said. “The Oklahoma Disaster Relief program and unit, it had been around, but it really kind of catapulted because a lot of those guys were also chaplains. And what overwhelmed the city, and still does, was the number of rescue workers and fireman that either came or sent resources. And so that response really caused, I think Oklahoma and specifically the Baptist Disaster Relief Ministry, to realize how critical that is. So much so, that one of the first groups on the scene at 9/11 was Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief.
The bombing would feel eerily close just a few years later, when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York City.
“I think 9/11, because for me– and I think even more so for others who were more closely related– I think there was a sense of understanding of what the people of 9/11 and the people of New York were going through because of what had happened here,” Compton said.
The Survivor Tree, a symbol of hope and regrowth, will in part, find a new home at OBU.
“Every year they take cuttings from the [Survivor’s] tree and they grow seedlings,” Director of Facilities Management, George Haines said. “[The memorial] donates them to different organizations. You have to apply for one and [OBU] did this year.”
The seedling will be planted on the South lawn of Raley Chapel in an official ceremony next week.
Pieces of the Survivor’s Tree can be found all across the country, including at Ground Zero in New York, standing as a reminder that our darkest days can eventually be followed by our finest hours.
The Memorial Museum, located on Robinson Ave., is home to a painfully beautiful tribute to those who lost their lives, those who rescued and responded and those who continue on, standing resolute with the Survivor’s Tree.
It welcomes new generations to learn the story. Centennial Elementary School was one of the many schools that bring their students to the museum to learn their city’s history.
“Walking through the museum I think we just want them to learn compassion and empathy,” OBU grad and fourth grade teacher Lea DeGiacomo said. “We’ve been working on that all year. We always talk about these as life principles.”
Born after 1995, the children would have to learn this lessons from the story told at the interactive museum; a story full of pain and loss but one that ends in a unified community.
“We just wanted them to have, sort of, an understanding and a context of the history of the city that they live in and that they’re growing up in,” DeGiacomo said.
In the spirit of continuing the education and passing along the story of the Murrah Bombing, Cox Communications is providing free admission to the Memorial Museum for all visitors on April 19.
“We believe it is important on this special day of remembrance that all visitors to the Memorial to be able to tour the Museum at no cost,” Cox Communications said in an offical statement.
The annual tradition continues on, carrying on the story of the ones lost, the heroes who rose and the survivors who continue onward.
For a photo essay about the OKC Memorial, see page 8.
Photos by Bison news editor Alyssa Sperrazza and OBU alumnus, Reuters/New York Times freelance photographer Nick Oxford.