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Federal, State, Local Officials Remember OKC Bombing

April 17, 2020 - 16:33
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The tragic events of 25 years ago, the country’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism, made a lasting impact on government operations at every level.

But federal, state and local officials, along with nearly every other Oklahoman, also experienced the attack that claimed 168 lives, including 19 children, at a deeply personal level. Here are some of their thoughts on the anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing:

U.S. Congressman Frank Lucas

Twenty-five years ago, the date April 19th took on an entirely new meaning to Oklahoma. On a cloudless Wednesday morning, our communities, our state, and our nation, were brought face to face with evil.

For many, the wounds are still painful. Every April 19th we remember the children, mothers, fathers, co-workers, and friends who lost their lives: children playing in the daycare, co-workers rushing to their morning meeting, friends who had just said their last good-byes to their loved ones.

But out of the ashes of evil, rose a stronger sense of community and hope. In the aftermath of the bombing, in what would become known as the Oklahoma Standard, first responders, neighbors, and individuals across our state came together to help rebuild a brighter and better future.

As we remember and grieve those we lost, we also reflect on the examples set by Oklahomans on April 19th: the courage shown by our first responders, the strength of survivors and the families forever impacted, and leaders who offered hope in days of darkness. This year, on this 25th anniversary, we pause once more to honor those we lost and draw strength from a day that will forever be a catalyst for hope.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe

It’s hard to imagine 25 years have passed since the tragedy in Oklahoma City that shaped the people and character of our state.

I had close friends who died that day and I know so many others who lost family, friends, and loved ones. Many showed up to offer help in the aftermath and even more offered prayers and kindness. These acts of good came to be known as the Oklahoma Standard, something that lives on in all of us.

"Today, we take extra time to remember the 168 people lost that day and pray for their families, loved ones and the first responders who risked their lives for us all. You will not be forgotten.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford

Twenty-five years ago, on a day just like today, Oklahomans, and all of America, were struck with disbelief at the outpouring of irrational hatred on our friends and neighbors.

That morning took 168 of our loved family members, our friends, our neighbors, and our co-workers. In Oklahoma, we are still surrounded by those who survived and those who were changed forever. We love them with the Oklahoma Standard and choose to stand with them to remind the world of their loss and their courage.

Today, we remember those unique lives lost, the survivors and every person who ran to help on our darkest day 25 years ago.”

State Majority Leader Mike Sanders

"I remember it like yesterday. I was a sophomore at Oklahoma Christian University and it was a beautiful sunny day. My class didn’t begin until 10 a.m. I got up that morning and fixed breakfast and for some reason I didn’t turn on the television. And II heard what sounded like a low roar that got louder, like a B52 at Tinker Air Force Base flying low. I went out on my balcony and didn’t see anything, so I got in my car and headed into class. That’s when I heard Ronnie Kay say on the radio that there had been a gas explosion in downtown Oklahoma City. What was really interesting too, my mom was out at the house in Kingfisher. She had heard the explosion, and said it was so loud that she thought someone was up on our roof and had fallen. 

When I got to campus and walked into my class building, everyone was huddled around a TV set and I thought, “oh my gosh, that was one heck of a gas explosion.” It wasn’t until later that we heard that it was actually a bomb. That beautiful day dissolved away and as the day wore on and the next couple of days it started raining and was cold and dreary, like heaven was weeping. Thinking back on it now, it was just eerie, eerie.

I had some friends working at the Capitol at that time. Gov. Keating had literally been in office like four months. After they were told it was not a gas explosion, they were asked to leave the building. They didn’t know what exactly was going on. Then they realized it was a terrorist attack. Other government buildings started getting put on lockdown. I distinctly remember how they got people out of the Capitol pretty quickly.

My family also had some close calls that you hear so many people talking about. My sister had her car broken into in Oklahoma City and was scheduled to testify in court at 9 a.m. that day, right across from the federal building. Our dad was planning to meet her down there but she got a call the night before saying that the defendant took a plea deal and the trial was canceled. My dad (retired funeral director Rusty Sanders) was called down there in the aftermath, along with other funeral directors across the state to help counsel the families whose loved ones had not been recovered.

State Sen. Darcy Jech

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since the bombing. I do remember vividly where I was on that morning. I happened to be a member of the hospital board during that time. It was a Wednesday morning and the day of our regular monthly KRH board meeting. The meeting started at 7:30 am and at that time the board meeting room was in the building just west of the old hospital. That meeting adjourned shortly after 9 am without any of us knowing what had just taken place at OKC.  A family member was a patient in the hospital at the time and after the meeting adjourned, I walked over to visit her. When I went into the patient room the television was on and all the OKC tv stations were reporting live from the scene of a huge explosion at the Federal Building in downtown OKC. 

That was when I first learned of the explosion.  As I remember, the early suspicion of the cause was a natural gas explosion which was soon ruled out. Then the speculation  became a terrorist attack, likely from one of the radical groups from a middle-east country, certainly not a domestic attack from another American as we eventually learned. 

I’ll never forget those early images of the blown-up Murrah Building and all the devastation downtown. All the people scrambling around, victims and volunteers,  first responders on the ground,  and all the dust and debris still flying around the area. It was very surreal and so hard to imagine that what I was seeing had actually just happened, and not just in our country, but in my home state and so close to home.

Kingfisher City Manager Dave Slezickey

I was in the Army stationed at Fort sill and we had come in from a field exercise early that morning and were putting our gear up in the barracks before heading back to the motor pool to clean up vehicles and start maintenance. I remember the noise and chatter echoing in the hallways, Then as people turned on their TVs and saw the news, I remember the silence that spread over the barracks. All of the leadership and guys that lived off post ended up in the barracks watching the news reports.

Kingfisher Mayor Steve Richards

My electrical company, including myself and two other employees, were working at Okarche Grain/Shawnee Mills doing electrical work outside the wheat elevators and were all on ladders. I remember the movement so vivid, not knowing what it was at the time, when all the suddon the gournd just trembled and shook. We could feel the movement more so because we were on ladders.

I jumped down and ran into the main office where a lot of farmers were looking at a small TV and everyone was so silent. I looked at the TV and saw the destruciton and devastation. I took my guys and we rushed back to the office where I dropped them off and headed for the fire station, where I was a volunteer fireman and state licensed EMT. Cashion ambulance service had already set up to travel to the bombing site but they needed us to cover their town, so we did. Kingfisher offered our help a number of times to go to the bombing site, but they said they had plenty of first responders and for us to stand by.

Kingfisher Fire Chief Tony Stewart

My shift was actually on duty that day. We were in the bay doing our daily checks and then our bay doors shook real hard, causing us to think someone hit the station or something close. We left the bay through the living room area and saw a glimpse of the event on TV.

There were several town between us and the City that took off toward the event without being asked. They self-deployed. That's a no no! You don't want people in your event if they aren't accounted for, especially at the beginning before command is set up.  It gets confusing to figure out who's there to help, who needs help, who's just a bystander and who might be the perp if you have a lot of unauthorized people at the scene. It's our nature to run toward the problem and I see why people think they need to self-deploy, but they should make contact first to see if their help is needed and if they are bringing the right equipment and resources to meet the needs on the ground. 

We took the role to help cover those areas (where local departments had self-deployed to the bombing scene) for as long as we could. That was our part.

Kingfisher Police Chief David Catron

I was at a training for John Deere, my job at the time, down at the fairgrounds in Oklahoma City. When the bomb went off, those big airplanes that are at the fairgrounds started vibrating. We saw th esmoke and thought it was a semi that had blown up on the interstate.

We went back into our meeting and a TV was on and showed what had happened, so they released everyone to go home. I remember the Kingfisher Police Department asking for anybody that wanted to volunteer to go to Oklahoma City and help and I remember that Ken Davis and Kirby Darbe going down. But I was only a reserve and had a full-time job so I couldn't go.

Kingfisher County Sheriff Dennis Banther

April 19 is a date I believe everyone will remember like it was yesterday.  On that morning I was working for Eagle Consultants in OKC.  It is a Civil and Environmental Engineering Consulting firm who at the time was located at 2525 NW Expressway on the 2nd floor. The office window I had looked towards the south, or more pointedly towards downtown. That morning when the bomb went off, I remember feeling our building shake. I walked out of my office into the commons area and speaking with a couple of the other guys and we all thought a semi had run into our building.  We walked outside and realized there was nothing there.  We then looked off into the distance and saw smoke billowing into the air.   

Our first guess, a plane must have crashed at the airport.  We went inside and couldn’t get any information at first.  Then our boss called and let us now what had happened.  That’s when worry began to set in.  My older brother, Darin, was set to meet with an individual at the Water Resources Board that morning, but also had been diverted to the Town of Wewoka.  He wasn’t answering his cell phone (because we all remember the expense of the old bag phones) and we couldn’t determine if he had it turned off or otherwise.  So we called the Town of Wewoka and asked them to notify us if he came into their office.  It took approximately an hour and a half to get that call.  Thankfully, he diverted as the individual he was to meet with at the WRB was killed in the explosion.  Later, an individual in the office directly above mine, spoke of how his desk was moved from the wall about 3 inches from the shockwave of the blast.

My sister, Dana, worked at Macklanburg Duncan in OKC and while closer to the site than we were, was still far enough away to not be affected by the act of terrorism. 

In the aftermath of the explosion, tensions were high as it was initially being reported as terrorism and people of Muslim descent were being targeted.  Two of the individuals I worked with were Muslim and as passive as anyone I have ever known.  We offered to take them grocery shopping or to escort them anywhere they needed to go to ensure their safety. They graciously declined the offer believing they were safe and soon everyone would regain their wits.  Thankfully, Trooper Charlie Hangar now Sheriff Charlie Hangar, arrested an individual on an uncanny traffic stop who turned out to be one of the most prolific domestic terrorists on American soil to this day.  The rest is history as they say.