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The Angels God Has Called Home

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[Ed. Note: Cashion native and CHS graduate Mark Beutler, current comunications director for the American Cancer Society, shared his memories of covering the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing for an Oklahoma City radio station. See the April 19, 2020, print edition for Beutler's interview with former Oklahoma First Lady Cathy Keating about her memory of the bombing and its aftermath.]

It was just before 9 a.m. when I arrived for work at the KXY-FM studios, sporting my new Tommy Hilfiger shirt.  Our news director, Nate Webb, was finishing his newscast while our morning team, Dave & Dan, were signing off for the day.  

And that’s when it happened, at 9:02 a.m.  An audio tape of the morning’s show captured the moment as Dan Stroud said, “What was that?” A few minutes later, Nate arrived in my office, throwing me a tape recorder.

Come on, Beutler, let’s go,” he said.  

Our studios then were at NE 28th and Oklahoma, putting KXY significantly close to the explosion we had just felt.  While I had been on-air for several years playing the latest country hits, Nate knew my news background would be helpful as he tried to assess what had just happened.

A few minutes later we arrived downtown, where the scene was chaos.  Streets were impassible, so we began our trek on foot toward the bomb site, still unsure what had happened. Shards of broken glass from storefronts littered the streets and sidewalks; paper flew like confetti through the black smoke-filled air.  As we neared NW 8th and Broadway, we saw a middle-aged man stumbling toward us.  He was dazed and obviously in shock, with blood streaming down his forehead and onto his starched white dress shirt.

Upon arriving at the Murrah Building, Nate and I went into reporter mode.  We had to separate the horrors we were witnessing from our jobs of getting the news to our listeners.  By noon the beautiful spring morning had turned into a nightmare. Almost on cue, clouds rolled in and a cold, slow, steady rain enveloped the city.

Now, 25 years later, time has blurred some of the raw emotion we felt that day, but it has not erased the memories.  One phrase from a country music artist has stuck with me for a quarter-century. During the hours following the bombing, KXY took calls expressing sympathy from many of our state’s top performers like Vince Gill, Reba McEntire and Garth Brooks.  That year’s reigning Female Vocalist was Pam Tillis, who called from a phone booth at LAX.

"Mark, I just want to express my sympathy to everyone in Oklahoma,” Tillis said.  “And when we hang up, I am going to say a silent prayer for all the angels God has called home today.”

The next day, Tillis issued a press statement, pulling her current single from the airwaves.

"While my single, ‘I Was Blown Away,” is a light-hearted love song, I am concerned that for many it could represent a difficult time due to the fact the expression can be taken several ways,” she wrote.  “Because of these uncomfortable connotations, I’ve asked my record label to stop promoting the single at radio. This is a crisis that has touched us all, and my heart goes out to the victims of the Oklahoma City tragedy and the angels God has called home.”

The angels God has called home,” still resonates as I think of the 168 lives that were lost and the many others that were changed forever. 

More than two decades passed before I visited the Memorial.  I had no desire to visit the site, believing a flood of memories would come rushing back. While working on a story for a local magazine in 2018, I visited with Kari Watkins, Executive Director at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.  I explained why I had never been to the site, and she offered a standing invitation.

Not long after, on a warm summer evening I decided to take a walk.  As I approached the east gate, the memories I feared from 1995 did not materialize.  Instead, a feeling of peace and tranquility swept over me.  At one point, my mind’s eye saw the ghost of the Murrah Building. A frightened young woman is peering over the edge of what had been the fourth floor, while a file cabinet teeters next to her.  Just as suddenly, that image disappeared with the sight of 168 chairs, illuminated in the twilight of a summer evening.  

A quarter-century has passed since that day.  When I went home that night in 1995, I tossed the Tommy Hilfiger shirt in the trash.  The news stories, the cassettes and reel-to-reel tapes we recorded that day are gathering dust somewhere.  

It's difficult imagining what it has been like for the families of those left behind—the Christmases without their loved ones, the summer vacations they missed, the graduations and grandchildren.  It’s hard to imagine what they would think of Oklahoma City today and the community’s strength that has endured for 25 years.

The angels God called home.”  You are still with us, friends.