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County residents share personal memories of Murrah Building bombing

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    SURVIVOR SEEDLING — This little one is a progeny of the Survivor Tree, the American Elm tree that survived the Murrah Building bombing and still grows at the site of the memorial. This tree is planted at the new park taking shape to mark the north entrance to Kingfisher. It was acquired by the Kingfisher Tree Board as a memorial to Steve Williams, 42, a Kingfisher High School graduate who was killed in the bombing 25 years ago.

On the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Times & Free Press asked county residents impacted by that tragedy, either directly or indirectly, to share their memories.

While the deaths and injuries of those with local connections hit hardest, the trauma of a senseless assault on the state and nation is still very real for area residents who experienced the blast and its aftermath. 

Barbara Walter

Now a contributor to the Times & Free Press, Barb Walter and her late husband Bill were longtime publishers of the Hennessey Clipper. Walter shared her personal and professional memories of that day.

Daddy died Sunday,  April 2, 1995, and I had a phone interview at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 19, about his Social Security with the Oklahoma City office in the Murrah Building.

We were always up late on Tuesday nights getting The Clipper put to bed, and it had been worse since Daddy’s death so I called the Social Security office the day before the appointment and rescheduled it.

Then strangely I woke up about 8:30 a.m. that Wednesday morning after only a few hours sleep. It was quiet in the house, and I wanted it that way. So instead of automatically turning on the TV, I sat there and cried, mourning Daddy’s death. 

About an hour later I flipped on the TV and saw the horrors of the bombing, then woke my husband. We sat there in disbelief and tried to get it to sink in, then checked our children who worked downtown and near the capitol. SSoon we were in newspaper mode, and everyone on our small staff had leads on stories about people who had Hennessey ties.

The story that stands out most in my mind was about 18-year-old Hennessey senior David Macy. He was on a field trip with his audio-visual class at an Oklahoma City TV station when the bombing story broke.David ended up at Baptist Hospital doing whatever the staff told him to do, but mainly assuring family that their loved ones were in good hands. He said what he saw on the TV at the hospital didn’t compare to seeing it at the bombed site.

The solemn young man who sat in my office and told me what happened wasn’t the same kid who’d handed me a cheeseburger and Dr. Pepper at the Sonic many times. At that time, David was already a registered EMT and also a volunteer Hennessey EMT and firefighter, and had been going out on ambulance calls for several months. Now he’s Capt. David Macy with the Oklahoma City Fire Department, and has spoken to Hennessey United’s Leadership Class of the past two years. Each year he tells them that he’s always wanted to help people.

After being at Baptist Hospital that day, Hennessey Fire Chief Bert Gritz picked David up and they went to Ground Zero to help. They were joined by other EMTs Ruby Gibbons, Sharron Schaefer and Jimmy Patocka, and firefighters Tim Riddle and Eddy Roundtree. Also nurses Connie Cline and Sarah Bergley.

Hennessey Public School treasurer and secretary Darci Montgomery was a juror deliberating in a criminal case across the street from the Murrah Building in the Federal Courthouse when the bomb went off, blowing out the courthouse windows. She suffered a broken nose and rode to the hospital in an ambulance with three other people. 

Oklahoma City attorney Duane Miller, brother of Hennessey’s Doyle Miller, was in the federal building to pick up a file for a client at the Federal Employees Credit Union on the east end of the third floor. He ended up at the west end of the first floor and was hospitalized with severe injuries to both legs.

HHS grads and sisters Mallory and Ashley Briix were both in Oklahoma City when their parents, Hennessey history teachers Lee and Marva Briix, found out about the bombing that morning. The sisters were both lucky. Mallory was supposed to file some papers at the federal courthouse that morning, but was running late so she went on to her OU law class instead, but planned to go there in the afternoon. Ashley went to a bagel shop downtown that morning before she went to class at the OU Medical School, and they definitely felt the blast at the medical center in northeast Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Bill Reitz

A longtime member of the OHP, Bill Reitz of Kingfisher originally trained and worked as a paramedic. On April 19, 1995, he was assigned by the OHP as a medical officer at its 48th training academy, 

"We felt the blast at our training center at 36th and Martin Luther King. I was at ground zero within 30 minutes of the bomb going off. My partner and I set up a triage at the post office that was at the corner of Fifth and Harvey. I saw some horrific things that day. I can’t recall for sure how long we were there –  it was a long day. Then we took the cadets from the academy back for several days following. A lot of it is a blur, probably my mind protecting me.”

Bridget Keast, P.A.

Bridget Keast had been a physician assistant for more than 15 years at the time of the bombing and she and her supervising physician, Dr. Mark Gregory, were among the medical personnel who volunteered at the bomb site.

Dr. Gregory and I went to one of the shelters that were set up to house the ground zero workers when they needed rest. We were at St. Luke’s (Methodist Church) overnight to evaluate and treat any of the workers that had complaints, physical or emotional. So many of them were so tired that they just ate then ‘crashed’ but we did see some for muscle pain and respiratory complaints. There was a therapist available for emotional concerns as well. Dr. Gregory and I both just walked around from time to time to see how everyone was doing, making eye contact and letting them know we were available. Everyone seemed both emotionally and physically spent. Nobody particularly sticks out in my mind as I think about those nights but I just remember how somber the whole atmosphere was.”

Sharon Yoder

The bombing was just before the annual Farm Show at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds.  My husband Ora and two employees were in setting up our booth. They heard and felt the bombing. The Farm Show continued on through Sunday night.  

During the following week, we were contacted by Pete and Barbara Brown. They were friends of a Judge in Oklahoma City. The judge asked Pete if he could make arrangements to grill for her staff on Sunday evening. She would provide all the food.  Pete knew we had a smoker that could handle the meat.

On Sunday we were escorted to the alley behind the Murrah building.  We were known as the “Alley Cooks”. We fed and got acquainted with a lot of workers, Federal Marshals, search dogs and handlers, FBI, various federal and state personnel.  

One of the people we visited with was impressed with a hot meal being provided on site. He was head of the ATF. Until then, while they had been well cared for, it was cold meals on site or going several blocks to a feeding area.  We told him we would be glad to come back and cook again.  e took a card of Ora’s.  On Monday morning, Ora called me at home, we were needed to feed several hundred lunch on Tuesday.  After l got past the panic, l started calling people from our church.  

I needed help to fix deserts, gather paper supplies, etc. and word spread into the community rapidly. Kingfisher stepped up, donations of beef, chicken and pork from family freezers, money, etc. poured in.  A quick trip to Sam’s for more food and borrowing a van to take everything. Pete and Barbara again joined us to cook and serve. We were given specific directions for pulling up to the gates, this time on the east side of the site. We arrived very early in the morning in order to have food cooked by lunch.  

It was like driving up to a movie set.  Pitch black, before sunrise, but so many lights illuminating the area. It was brighter than noon on a clear day.  We cleared security and got set up. I don’t remember how many we fed, hundreds.  We heard many stories.  We also met the man responsible for designing the protocol for emergency response. He and some FBI came to Kingfisher and had a presentation at the school. Many children went home with autographs from FBI, Federal Marshals, etc.  

Dennis and Lora Baker

Dennis Baker: "I was at home, having worked a midnight shift with the Kingfisher Police Department the night before. My mother called and told me later that morning with particular concern that a long-time family friend of ours, Steve Williams, was in the building. (Williams, 42, a Kingfisher High School graduate and Cashion resident, was later named one of the bombing fatalities.) 

"I recall following the news reports of the recovery efforts very closely. Later Lora and I did a supply drive at Wal-Mart for needed supplies for the rescue efforts. My work schedule prevented me from going to the site to assist. A specific later memory I still have was patrolling the streets of a Kingfisher listening to a Billy Graham message on the radio as he shared words of hope."

Lora: "My recollection of the day of and events following the bombing are limited. I do remember being at work at Wal-Mart, when Wal-Mart was located in the building Atwoods now occupies.  I remember hearing the loud boom and thinking it sounded like thunder. At the time, myself and several co-workers looked at each other rather puzzled but had no idea yet what had just happened. It didn’t take long for word to spread about the bombing.

"Dennis and I felt the need to do something so we set up a location in Wal-Mart to raise funds to donate to the Red Cross. I do remember being amazed at how generous our community was with their donations and even small children giving money to the cause.  Dennis and I delivered the money to the Oklahoma City Red Cross.

I learned that my cousin Terri (Yost) Shaw was in the Murrah building at the time of the bombing. She survived but was pretty banged up. My parents and I did get the chance to visit her in the hospital and kept in contact with her parents Johnny and Carole Yost to follow her progress." (See the story about Terri's ordeal and recovery in the Sunday, April 19, 2020, print edition of the Kingfisher Times & Free Press.)

Steve Altman, Brown & Borelli Oil Co.

I remember I was at Brown & Borelli’s office when word came in. Someone went home and got a portable TV and we all watched the story unfurl from the front office, where we had all gathered to watch the coverage. Not much work got done that day.

 

I do remember some of the first theories that came out and one of them was that it could have been a natural gas explosion.

Having been around natural gas my whole life (My dad ran the gas utility in Omaha, NE, so I was exposed to natural gas from a VERY young age, and by 1995 I had been in the oilfield for 18 years), I was certain that natural gas was not the cause.  That something more sinister had occurred.

 

Unfortunately, I was right.  Some fools named Timothy McVeigh and Larry Nichols (and maybe more?) had set off that bomb.  And now 171 fellow Oklahomans (I count the three unborn babies) were dead for no good reason.

And then, by the Grace of God, an alert highway patrolman caught McVeigh the same day.  And the evil was stopped before it could strike again.

 

Shari and Kurt Beecher

My husband Kurt and I were not married yet, so I didn’t experience the bombing like he did. At the time Kurt was working for Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems which became Southwestern Bell Wireless. He was a cellular tower technician, turning up and repairing the cellular towers network system so cell phones worked. When the bombing happened he had just left the Crescent cell tower and was traveling down S.H. 74 towards OKC. He got a call from his supervisor to head directly to downtown to work on disaster recovery.

 

Now, he knew something had happened as he could see the downtown smoke all the way 7 or 8 miles north of Memorial Road. Kurt and his team worked to deploy emergency communications for all the first responders. They brought in and turned up what is called a COW (cell on wheels) to set up a temporary cell tower just to the north of the bombing site. They worked to help hand out handsets to those working the recovery. Southwestern Bell’s downtown office was just two blocks away and so he kept supplies up and resources, such as food, coming to help the efforts.

 

He worked long hours and was at ground zero keeping the lines going. To this day he still has his badges from working inside the closed perimeter. I am sure he could tell you more of what went on, but this is what I know. Because of his successful efforts he became head of disaster recovery for the South Central region for Southwestern Bell which became Cingular Wireless. When hurricane Katrina hit NOLA, he continued his successful effort to help down there.