Oklahoma City bombing victims say they're ignored
Friday, December 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Some of those who lost loved ones in the Oklahoma City bombing are feeling slighted by the federal government over its decision to dispense an average of $1.65 million apiece to the families of the Sept. 11 dead.
No such federal fund was ever set up for the Oklahoma City victims.
``I don't want to do a hierarchy on terrorism here, but that's kind of minimizing what happened to the people of Oklahoma City,'' said Marsha Kight, whose daughter Frankie Merrell was killed in the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and wounded more than 500. ``The individual loss was just as great for us.''
More than 3,000 people were killed in the attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon and in the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Generally, survivors will get a minimum of $300,000, with the exact amounts depending on such things as the victim's earning potential and pain and suffering.
The money will be in addition to the hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable donations that are being distributed to those who suffered in the Sept. 11 attacks.
The government fund was set up in September as part of a $15 billion airline bailout package. Those who want to receive money have to agree not to sue the airlines over the terrorist attacks.
Spokesmen for Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer of New York, who pushed the bill, did not return calls seeking comment on why Oklahoma City victims were not included, as some families say should have been done.
After the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, the government paid out death or disability benefits to federal employees or their families. The amounts depended on the employees' insurance coverage.
Dan McKinney, whose wife was a federal employee, estimated spouses received $100,000 on average. ``Some people may have gotten rich off of it, but none that I know of,'' he said.
And cafeteria employees, parents of children killed in the day care center and those who died while visiting the building did not receive federal benefits.
Other federal aid given to the state for the victims totaled only about $75,000, said Suzanne Breedlove, director of victims' services for the district attorney's office.
Oklahoma City collected about $35 million in charitable donations, mostly to the Red Cross, Breedlove said. Victims had to prove loss of income or other reasons for assistance. Much of the money was used for mental health counseling and surgery.
Jannie Coverdale, whose two grandsons were killed in the day care center, said she has always felt the government treated bombing victims unfairly.
``They never offered us anything,'' she said. ``Since we're stuck here in Oklahoma, our state representatives haven't done anything to help us.''
Before the attacks, in 2000, Congress passed a law that helps compensate American families who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks in other countries. The law makes it easier for victims to claim damages from the frozen assets of countries suspected of supporting terrorism.
The law retroactively covers the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Oklahoma City bombing is not covered because it took place in the United States.
Martin Cash, who lost an eye in the 1995 blast, said the law should not treat one terrorist attack differently from another.
``A lot of us were a little bit miffed that we were excluded because they are making a distinction between homegrown terrorists and foreign terrorists,'' he said. ``There are a lot of people who could use it. It's still mass murder, or attempted murder for those of us who made it through.''
On Thursday, Congress did agree to waive some income taxes and provide other tax relief to families of the Sept. 11 victims as well as the Oklahoma City victims.
Kight, who now helps Sept. 11 victims through the National Organization for Victim Assistance in Washington, said she is pleased that they are receiving so much help, but wishes the Oklahoma City families had gotten more attention.
``Our concerns were minimized,'' she said. ``A lot more is being done now because there are more people and many more voices.''