The Oklahoma City National Memorial at dusk.
A silver lining emerged from the overwhelming tragedy of the Oklahoma City Bombing—the stirring response to it by the grief-stricken Sooner State. At the time of the bombing, multitudes of people across America and beyond, and even within Oklahoma itself, still viewed Oklahoma through John Steinbeck’s brilliant but flawed Grapes of Wrath quill. What the world now saw on the screens of its televisions and computers, and in the pages of its newspapers and magazines, was a remarkable and singular witness of a city and a state. Whether it be the complete cessation of crime in Oklahoma City for a period of time, or the innumerable accounts of fortitude, sacrifice, and even heroism, or the widely-acknowledged season of spiritual repentance and religious revival that ensued, Oklahoma rose up from the ashes of sorrow and destruction and wrote its name on the scroll of history as high as it has ever been written.
Following are a few examples of remarkable courage and Providence amidst the sorrow and suffering. Many thanks to Robin Jones, General Manager of OKC Christian radio stations KQCV and KNTL at the time of the bombing, and her inspiring book, Where Was God at 9:02 A.M.?, from which some of the accounts came.
Arkansas championship team (Mickey Maroney inset below)
Larger-than-life in every way, Mickey Maroney was a strapping, 6-foot, 4-inch Texan who played defensive end on the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 1964 National Championship football team. In his quarter-century as a Secret Service Agent, he protected seven U.S. Presidents. Several years before the bombing, he committed his life to Christ. He and his wife prayed from then on, that his colleague and good friend Don would as well. Mickey was scheduled to work in Tulsa the day of the bombing, but Don asked if they could trade shifts. Don was scheduled to work the downtown OKC Murrah Federal Building. Mickey said yes to his friend and perished in the bombing. A stunned silence swept the numerous witnesses who recognized the revered Mickey’s body being pulled from the rubble. Greatly moved, Don very soon followed Mickey’s example of following Christ.
Destroyed Murrah Building
As she did every day, Tillie Westberry straightened the tie of Bob, her husband of thirty-six years and told him she loved him. She kissed him goodbye for the last time as he left the morning of the bombing for the Murrah Building. He served there as the Defense Department’s Supervising Agent in Charge. Bob’s office stood thirty feet from the Ryder truck blast. Tillie mourned the love of her life, but had no regrets. Her advice to all of us? “Tell your family and friends you love them. Do not let a day pass without doing so. Never part from anyone’s company without expressing your love.”
Mike Walker, an OKC firefighter and intermediate paramedic, was giving an IV to a grievously-injured woman in or near the Murrah Building when a second post-blast bomb scare came. Suddenly a herd of people running for their lives came near Mike and his patient, screaming and shouting. The patient couldn’t be moved, and Mike was worried she would be trampled. Another first responder threw a bunker coat over Mike and his patient to help protect them. Thinking the second bomb might explode at any moment, Mike eyed the cluster of people who had gathered around him and said: “If you guys aren’t Christians, you better run.” He and his patient both survived.
Cindy and Albert Ashwood (above). Susan Ferrell with her niece and nephew on Easter Sunday 1995, three days before the bombing. (below)
Chandler attorney Cindy Ashwood lost her older sister Susan Ferrell in the bombing. Cindy and her husband Albert, later the longtime Director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, stayed in the city to make arrangements for “Susie.” A few days later, a friend drove Cindy home to Chandler and her children. She recalled the memorable journey:
As soon as we left her neighborhood, that’s when I first saw the headlights. People were driving with their lights on, in the middle of the day, all the way across town. What really took my breath away were the lights on Turner Turnpike. It seemed like every car had its lights on. It was the same in Chandler. It was for those who were missing, those they were looking for, those who had died. I was speechless. I will never forget it.
Charles and Jean Hurlburt
Charles Hurlburt of Oklahoma City was the great-great-grandson of Morse Code inventor Samuel Morse. Devout members of Metropolitan Baptist Church in OKC, Hurlburt and his wife Jean were killed while in Murrah’s Social Security Office. Another seriously-injured bombing victim lay immobilized under debris elsewhere in the building and began tapping a Morse Code signal for help. Rescue workers heard the unseen person, rescued them, and they survived.
Governor Frank Keating, speaking at ceremony for the 20th anniversary of the bombing.
Theft, plunder, vandalism, and assorted other criminality follow in the wake of urban American catastrophes as naturally as the turning of the earth. After the Oklahoma City Bombing, crime of every kind ceased for a time across the entire city. Governor Frank Keating recalled that in downtown OKC, “We had 302 buildings damaged or destroyed, and not one act of looting.”
As a Virginia urban search and rescue team prepared to leave Oklahoma City, one of its members pulled a dollar bill from his pocket and hollered at Governor Keating: “Hey Governor! This is the same dollar I came to Oklahoma with and it’s the same dollar I’m leaving with. None of us ever paid for one thing the whole time we were here. We’d go out to dinner and the check never came.” The OKC restaurants and cafes would either comp their meals when they learned the men were out of town search and rescue workers, or local customers would anonymously pay for them.
New York City rescue team commander Ray Downey (above) later became Deputy NYC Fire Chief and gave his life as a first responder in the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. He told Keating: “In the (first, 1993) World Trade Center bombing, they charged us five bucks for a sack of ice in our own city. In Oklahoma, we never paid for anything. No food, no massage, boots, clothes, showers—nothing.”
Twenty-eight-year-old Allegiance Credit Union teller Amy Downs (now Head) (pictured right) fell three stories and lay bleeding under rubble for six hours, one leg nearly torn off. “This one woman was screaming right in my ear, saying, ‘Jesus, help me!’” she remembered. “I realized it was my own voice. I thought about my life and realized I had huge regrets, and all of a sudden, my life is over. I began to beg God: I promise I will live my life different if I can just have a second chance…Then, there in the dark, the words to ‘I Love You, Lord,’ a song we used to sing in church growing up came into my mind. I actually began singing. I felt this incredible peace I can’t describe. It was absolutely supernatural. I’ve never felt anything like it since, and I knew I was gonna be okay. I didn’t know if I was gonna make it out alive, but I knew I was gonna be okay.”
Amy was one of the final survivors rescued. But, “It took quite a few years just to work through the pain of losing so many of my friends, and the survivor guilt. Now it’s been (decades) since the bombing, and everything in my life has changed. I went from being the teller in the credit union where I worked, to being the CEO. I went from being 355 pounds to being an Iron Man. I went from being unhappy and divorced, to being extremely happy and in love. I went from thinking I never wanted to have children, to being the mom of the most incredible 18-year-old drummer there is. I went from living my life without purpose to living my life with faith and intention. To that person who is going through something so horrible, and they wake up every morning and they think, ‘I can’t believe this happened.’…time does really heal and you really will get through it.”
A six-year-old OKC girl heard about the bombing while at her baby sitter’s house. Emotionally shaken, she went outside by herself to the swing set. Still upset while swinging, she saw the image of an angel in the sky above. It declared to her: “We are coming for the babies.”