BY ROBIN MARSH
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma - For so many people time stood still that fateful April day 20 years ago, when a bomb exploded outside the Murrah Federal building.
For one woman who had to help families face the reality of losing their little ones, life changed forever. Melva Noakes was the operator at the America's Kids Daycare at the Federal Building. A caregiver at heart, the morning of April 19th 1995 began at her daycare in Choctaw.
"Kids were running in the daycare in Choctaw and I just got off the phone with Dana. I knew there were 21 kids in the daycare she was excited about the day," said Melva Noakes, America's Kids Daycare Owner. "We just talked like we always did and I hung up the phone to do payroll."
She was planning to head to downtown Oklahoma City and the federal building where she had just opened the America's Kids Daycare three weeks prior.
"Usually I would go down and park my car underneath that building and wave at the kids in the windows," she remembers. "I would call them on the phone and say 'I'm coming' and I'd honk the horn and wave at them in the windows."
It was a precious memory that faded in an instant, when Melva's daughter called with word of an explosion at the federal building.
"As we got down there, I couldn't believe it," she said. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Nothing prepares you for that. When I walked and finally turned the corner, it was like, there wasn't a building, and there was no landmark that I remembered."
The loss is unbearable. Nineteen lives taken inside the daycare including the tiniest 15 victims, Scott Williams, who was making a delivery, and three of Melva's daycare workers, Wanda Lee Howell, Brenda Faye Daniels and Dana Cooper. Melva says 9:00 a.m. was bible time and that Miss Wanda was found with a bible and child in her lap. Melva says she will never forget how each life touched her heart, but she says there is one thing that still haunts her.
"You know when you tell someone 'go ahead and go to work mom they're going to be fine, they'll be here when you come home' and you can't tell them that anymore," she said. "It's just not the same."
Timothy McVeigh was tried and executed for his role in the bombing. Two years before, he was seen at the Branch Dravidian Compound in Waco, Texas. Many believed the government raid at Waco was his motive for Oklahoma City on April of 1995. It's been a lonely road of anguish continued for Melva the day she realized she was a defendant in a lawsuit after many of the parents sued her.
"People saying I had the daycare open that day, that I knew it was a terrorist day," she said, referring to April 19th, 1995 being the second anniversary of the Waco siege of a compound belonging to the religious group Branch Davidians. "When you have a contract with the federal government they tell you when to shut the doors and lock the doors. It's not something you can control."
Forgiveness and healing has come for Melva and can be found through the pages of a book she has written, "April Mourning," the story of the daycare. Now, 20 years later, she is still a caregiver, only now for patients with Alzheimer's. She says God has carried her though the dark days and she will never forget. Melva says there is only one place she wants to be on the 20 year remembrance of the bombing, at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum's remembrance ceremony.
"I'll be here reading the names," she said closing her eyes.
After three years of lawsuits, Melva says the judge threw out all the lawsuits against her. She says she has no ill feelings towards the parents who sued her.