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Stuffed bears to be donated to children in New York City, Washington

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Stuffed bears _ a symbol of hope and healing following the Oklahoma City bombing _ perched from a wall at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Wednesday as officials planned to donate the bears to public school children in New York City and Washington, D.C.

Hundreds of brown, pink and white teddy bears created a rainbow of color at a memorial plaza and dozens of school children clutched more bears and handmade cards of condolence. Gov. Frank Keating discussed Oklahoma's response to the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

``These teddy bears are reaching across the land to hold hands with our fellow Americans who are grieving, who are so sad, who are so utterly crushed,'' Keating said.

``These bears are symbols of hope for us,'' said Linda Lambert, chairman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Trust. Lambert said that many of the 1,000 stuffed bears that will be shipped initially were placed by visitors and family members on a chain-link fence that once ringed the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

The stuffed animals became known as ``Hope Bears'' and were a symbol of healing following the carnage of the April 19, 1995, bombing, which killed 168 people including 19 children.

``They lifted our hearts,'' she said.

Lambert said school children in Oklahoma and across the nation were traumatized by the bombing and loss of life. Their fears have been resurrected by new images of crumbled buildings and rescue crews digging through rubble for the dead and wounded.

``All are painful reminders to us,'' Lambert said.

As she spoke, Joceyln Sanchez, a student at Eisenhower Middle School in Oklahoma City, held a handmade poster that depicted Tuesday's attack on the World Trade Center, complete with burning buildings and aircraft flying low overhead.

``I am sad for you,'' the poster read.

``My heart goes out to all the people affected during this tragic time,'' said Carmen Ponder-Moore, a student at Classen School for Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City. ``Our hearts go out to all of you and you are in our prayers.''

Nearby, a placard stood beneath the Survivor Tree _ an American elm that survived the Oklahoma City bombing _ that said ``New York City and Washington, D.C. _ Oklahoma Cares.

``You stood with us in our darkest hour. Now we stand with you.''

``Whatever we have is yours,'' Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys said.

Keating said that New York City Fire Department officials, including the city's most decorated firefighter, Ray Downing, were among the first outside of Oklahoma to respond to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Keating said Downing was killed Tuesday in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

``We in Oklahoma are so stunned and saddened by this act of evil,'' he said.

Lambert said Oklahoma officials have taken out a full-page ad in Thursday's New York Times to express their sorrow and support.

Meanwhile, in Tulsa, representatives of churches, mosques and synagogues gathered with city officials in a public prayer service in a plaza outside city and county offices.

Houssam El-Soueissi with the Islamic Society prayed for mercy for families and victims of the attacks.

Quoting the prophet Mohammed, he said ``you will not believe until you are merciful and you will not be merciful until your mercy is to humanity at large.''

The Rev. G. Calvin McCutcheon, pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, prayed for children and families affected by the attack.

He cited a passage from the Bible; ``Fear God and keep his commandments, for God shall bring every work into judgment whether it be good or bad.''

Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman prayed that God would ``give us a calm and worthy patriotism to look in the faces of others and see the face of the living God.''

He concluded by saying ``Shalom. Shalom. Peace. Peace, even if it takes a lifetime.''
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