Oklahomans compare sinking feeling to 1995 bombing

Wednesday, September 12th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Roy Sells, who lost his wife in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, found out about that explosion and Tuesday's terrorist attacks in identical fashion _ from the same waitress in the same cafe.

``It was the most sinking feeling that I've felt since the bombing,'' Sells said. ``I had almost the same reaction.''

His wife of 37 years, Leora Lee Sells, was one of 168 people murdered in Timothy McVeigh's attack, which, until Tuesday, was the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil.

Many Oklahomans had deja vu when they saw images of crumbled concrete, rescue workers covered in ash and tear-streaked faces of people looking for loved ones. The collapse of the World Trade Center towers reminded them of the implosion of the bombed-out shell of the federal building about a month after the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing.

``It's like a replay times tenfold of what we've been through here in Oklahoma City,'' said R. Murali Krishna, a psychiatrist and president of Integris Mental Health in Oklahoma City. ``People have lots of memories of being devastated, their lives, their families' lives, the life of their community.''

Oklahoma counseling centers were receiving calls from hundreds of residents who wanted to talk about their despair.

``Initially a sense of numbness will set in,'' Krishna said. ``How can this happen, how can the most powerful nation in the world be attacked by somebody?

``Oklahoma City was smaller in scale, but it shook our foundations.''

News of the attacks hit California resident Rudy Guzman particularly hard. Guzman's brother, Marine Capt. Randolph Guzman, died in the Oklahoma City bombing. His cousin worked at the World Trade Center, but she survived.

``That was scary for 10 or 15 minutes,'' he said Wednesday. ``I was like, 'Oh, not again.'''

Guzman said that as he watched the events unfold in New York City, he began praying all over again that his brother's death wasn't too painful. He said he has been glued to the television for two days.

``I've learned to handle the pain, but the pain came back,'' he said. ``I'm reliving the thoughts of April 19.''

Kathy Otis, coordinator of case management development for the Oklahoma Department of Health, said images, smells and sounds of trauma imprint in people's minds.

``If we lived through the bombing, we received images and those are easily recalled when we see similar images on the television,'' she said. ``What is happening is a revisit of trauma to 1995.''

Otis said calls to the health department's hot line have steadily increased since Tuesday morning.

Jenny Fenner, director of volunteers at CONTACT crisis help line, said calls were numerous Tuesday, but slowed down Wednesday.

``We expect that they will pick up again as people continue to hear what is being found at the site and the numbers of the dead and the stories of the survivors,'' she said. ``The numbers will increase as the reality starts to set in.''

Fenner said many callers to CONTACT, which had 35,000 calls in the year after the bombing, wanted to help the victims in New York. One woman offered to house travelers stranded at the airport, and a hospital employee in New York City called for advice.

Many Oklahomans said they wanted to help victims in New York just as the nation supported their state after the 1995 tragedy.

Rescue workers who combed the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building were jolted back to the horror of that day more than six years ago. Ray Downey, chief of special operations command, was one of three top fire officials who died when the Trade Center collapsed. Downey led New York firefighters to Oklahoma City in 1995.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial was organizing a program to send 1,000 teddy bears to students in New York City and Washington, D.C. The bears became a symbol of hope after the bombing.

A sign erected at the memorial Wednesday said: ``New York City and Washington D.C., Oklahoma cares. You stood with us in our darkest hour. Now we stand with you.''

Kathy Wilburn, whose grandsons Chase and Colton Smith were killed in the federal building's day-care center, spend more time crying for the dead toddlers Tuesday than she had in a while. She said she cannot imagine the number of people who lost loved ones in the attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon.

``The pain was so great for us,'' she said. ``There could be tens of thousands of families hurt by this.''