Oklahoma City Bombing
Winner of a Dart Award for its extensive coverage of the aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, coverage that helped readers connect to the lives of individual victims, survivors and families. Originally published in The Daily Oklahoman between April and November, 1995.
Life Isn't Fair ... Everybody's Here for You
"My mom tells me a lot that life isn't fair, but this is one of the worst ever in my life. And if anybody calls and hears this ... just ... everybody's here for you."
It was the halting voice of a child, struggling between sobs to voice his feelings. The call to The Oklahoman's Access Line was recorded at 3:34 Sunday morning.
Just as the children and infants in the second-floor day-care center of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building were the most tragic victims in the April 19 bombing, the city area's children may carry the deepest psychological scars, say area psychologists and counselors.
They are too innocent, too unsophisticated, to understand how extreme beliefs can sometimes drive people to extreme acts; how people can value political ideology above human life.
They know only that mothers, fathers, grandparents and children have died.
"I don't understand why the bad guys hurt the people," Billy Shawn Easley, 4, of Oklahoma City, wrote with the help of his older sister.
"When I get big, I want to tell them not to hurt the people. The bad guys made the children cry. Just tell me why!
"The rescue workers are good people. They helped the people to stop crying. I love you," Easley said in the letter meant for rescue workers.
Amanda Warehime, 14, of Dewey, OK, sent this letter, meant for the parents of children killed in the bombing:
"I feel horrible, sick, devastated and terrified. I have no idea how utterly confused you must feel now. I know one thing, though, your child or children are sitting on Jesus' knee, happy and in no pain.
"I also know God would never make this happen. Man made this happen. God cried that night, cried for you in your pain. May God be with you in your time of sadness. You are loved."
Other children and teen-agers also left messages on the Access Line.
"I'm 13 and I think that I've never seen this in my life," said one boy. "And I think that this is sick that somebody can do this to human beings, to human life. And to kill that many children is just sick. I just think it's really sick."
A young girl called to say, "I think the people who did this are evil cowards as President Clinton said, and it will take Oklahoma City a long time to recover from the evil cowardice that has been set upon us.
"But with love and pride and a wonderful sense of community that we have here in Oklahoma City, we shall overcome," she said.
And parents called with concerns about the children.
A woman called to say, "I think it's a real tragedy that anyone, and especially Americans, would do this to other innocent people and make the little children around here in Oklahoma be scared to go outside or to be scared to play because they're afraid that the bomb will find them."
The mother of an Oklahoma City police officer said after the bombing that her son's days off were canceled and he has been working 12-hour shifts ever since.
"His little 5-year-old daughter doesn't quite understand why she doesn't get to see her daddy, and she thinks because the bomb's over that her daddy ought to be home with her.
"So it has affected all of our lives in some way. And I'm so sorry for all the families involved," she said.
Edmond psychologist Paul Tobin said children may react differently to the bombing, depending on their level of development.
Very young children, preschool or kindergarten age, may react with regressive behavior such as thumb sucking or bed wetting. They may cling more closely to parents and show more anxiety over separation from parents.
Older children may also show signs of regressing, Tobin said. But they also may become irritable or have angry outbursts. Children may also have nightmares and difficulty sleeping.
Tobin said parents should encourage their children to talk about their feelings. With children who are not talkative, drawing pictures might help.
Parents also should be positive when around children, he said.
"It does make sense to say, yes there is evil in the world, but that there is also a tremendous amount of good out there that will overcome evil.
"The firemen, policemen, rescue workers are real examples of good - caretakers who are making their world safe again."
Tobin said teachers can also help students express their feelings about the bombing. Several area schools have sent The Oklahoman examples of what their students have done since April 19.
Second-grade students at Russell Dougherty Elementary School in Edmond dedicated their class newspaper to Murrah building bombing. The students' headlines mirrored those in newspapers across the nation.
"They established that it was a senseless deed. They decided it was somebody who had been very injured in his or her life, and who didn't know how to love," said their teacher, Linda Skinner. "If children ran the world, we would have a community of love."
She said each of her students had a personal connection to someone directly involved in the bombing, either as a victim or as part of the rescue effort.
The children also drew pictures and constructed worry dolls for rescue workers and children in the hospital.
Patsy Glass's kindergarten class at Oakdale Elementary School, 10901 N Sooner Road, put together a book about the bombing with drawings and comments from the students. Here are some excerpts from that book:
Logan Brauser: "My Dad heard the bomb go off, and he thought it was an airplane that crashed by our house."
Dylan Stephens: "Some people ducked under their desks. The desks helped them real good because they weren't scraped or hurt, and some kids weren't even crying."
Olivia Barnes: "We were watching T.V. There was a baby that died. He had blood on him all over. My big brother, Lucas, didn't know it was a baby."
Cara Mosca: "I remember when I was sleeping and the bomb was ready to blow."
Kelsey White: "A friend was in the day care at the YMCA and just got a scrape from a piece of glass."
Evan Elliott: "Some people are dead from day care. ... I felt bad when the building blew up."
Michael Mathis: "My Dad felt the bomb."
Hannah McCutcheon: "My dad was close to the bomb."
Courtney Craig: "Yesterday when we were at school I almost cried because some babies died."
Shyla Orf: "My other dad works at the YMCA. He almost died, but he got out safe."
Toni Cardwell's second-grade class at Earlywine Elementary School, 12800 S May in the Moore School District, wrote letters to rescue workers and others:
Kylie Combs: "Dear rescue dogs: Dogs are one of my favorite animals. Thank you for helping the firefighters look for the missing people.
"I'm sad that all those people were in the big boom. I'm really sad that all those people were hurt. Please run and play with children everywhere, so we all can be happy again. I pray that God keeps you safe."
Michael Switzer: "Dear President Clinton, thank you for giving Oklahoma your support. Thank you for talking to the children so we won't be scared. I'm glad you came to Oklahoma for our prayer meeting. I liked the speech you gave. I never want to be sad again. P.S., Thank you for planting the dogwood tree."
Zach Gilliam: "Dear victims and families, I know you feel sad. I hope you feel better soon. I can't believe anyone could hurt innocent people. I am praying for you!"
Randi McLain: "Dear rescue workers, feelings are hurt and lives are ruined. It might take years to heal the wounds, especially the broken hearts. Thank you for helping the people of Oklahoma. You have done a great job! You are real heroes."
Fatima Maqsood: "Dear policemen, thank you for doing a great job. I'm lucky that my family or other people I know wasn't hurt.
"I wish the boom didn't happen. I wish that many people didn't die. I feel sad so many children are hurting. Policemen, thank you for helping us and making everything better."
Lisa Underwood: "Children of Oklahoma, I'm sorry if you are sad, and it is OK to feel this way. I feel sad sometimes, too. My teacher told me that it would help if I talk about my feelings. I hope you feel better and happy soon. To all the firefighters, thank you for all your help and hard work."
We also received poetry from several schools. Here is one example from Brandi Perry, a sixth grader at Glover Elementary School in Broken Bow:
Why did they do it? Take all those innocent lives, Put these people through this, Just listen to their cries.
All those innocent babies killed, Every person loved them so, And, why a human would do that, No one will ever know.
While we watched the news, Our eyes filled with tears, And people who were involved, Their hearts filled with fear.
I wish I could grab them and tell them they'll never hurt again, but only God can do that, I can only lend a hand.