Seventh anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing observed

Friday, April 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Survivors of the federal building bombing joined families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks in marking 168 seconds of silence Friday _ one for each person who died here seven years ago.

Mourners wiped away tears as ringing church bells ended the silence.

``On this seventh anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in our nation's history, we pray for the continued healing of this great city,'' said pastor Richard Del Rio of New York.

Linda Lambert, chairwoman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Trust, said those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will come to know what those here have already learned.

``While we never get over these tragedies, we do get through them,'' she said.

Bob Bender, the chief executive officer of the Greater New York chapter of the American Red Cross, stressed the similarity between the two tragedies.

``The only difference between New York and here is the scale,'' he said. ``The events are exactly alike.''

He said the thousands of teddy bears sent by Oklahomans to New York became a symbol of the empathy the nation felt for Sept. 11 victims.

``We had the teddy bears in our family assistance center, we lined the walls with them and those teddy bears really had a significant meaning,'' he said.

The stuffed animals were put in cots used by rescuers.

``It was surprising how these big burly guys and gals went to sleep with their teddy bears,'' he said.

Gov. Frank Keating said the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11 attacks leave a never-ending pain.

``This place seven years ago was indeed a place of unspeakable pain and agony,'' he said. ``The pain and agony has not completely abated and the pain and agony will never completely diminish nor should it.''

Bombing survivor Vicki Hamm, who attended the ceremony, said she still experiences deep emotions whenever she visits the memorial.

``It is a little easier, but it's still hard,'' she said. ``My knees get weak because these feelings come back. The bombing is something I will live with for always. I try to accept that. I don't want to forget it.''

Some victims of the bombing have developed deep friendships with families of the Sept. 11 dead.

Ken Thompson, whose mother died in the bombing, embraced Cathy Miller, who lost her father Sept. 11 when Miller arrived at the airport in Oklahoma City so she could attend the ceremony.

The two have talked almost daily since Miller e-mailed the Oklahoma City National Memorial two days after her father was killed.

``It's overwhelming, but it feels good to be here,'' Miller said.

Susan Walton, who was making a deposit at the credit union in the Murrah building when it was bombed, said she was grateful to be at the ceremony Friday. She has had 26 surgeries to repair her injuries.

``I consider myself lucky because I have no memory of that day,'' she said.

It's been an eventful year for bombing survivors and families of victims.

In June, 232 watched a closed-circuit broadcast and 10 watched in person as Timothy McVeigh was put to death in a federal prison in Indiana. Then the new Oklahoma County district attorney announced he would prosecute co-conspirator Terry Nichols, already serving a federal life prison sentence, on state murder charges that could bring the death penalty.

On Sept. 11, many bombing victims relived their own tragedy. They sent teddy bears to New York. Some flew there to hold the hands of victims' families as they visited the World Trade Center site.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial has created an exhibit focusing on the shared experiences of terrorist victims in Oklahoma City, New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa. The exhibit, which opened Friday, includes photographs and artifacts from the four cities, as well as information about nine rescue workers killed at the trade center who helped rescue Oklahoma City victims.

The wife and 7-year-old son of William Lake, one of the rescuers who died, attended Friday's ceremony.

Bill Lake had celebrated his 20th anniversary as a Brooklyn firefighter on Sept. 10. He was also a member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency task force for rescue and recovery at the Oklahoma City bombing.

``Bill was first and foremost a fireman and would have given the shirt off his back for anyone,'' said Dorothy Lake, 37, as her son wandered nearby. ``The week he spent in Oklahoma, he became obsessed with helping people and getting to know all of the victims.''

She described the trip to Oklahoma as a healing act and called the morning a somber time.

``Our wounds are still open,'' she said. ``We didn't have time or the opportunity to celebrate our loved ones.''

Anthony Gardner, whose brother died in the trade center, organized the New Yorkers' trip. He said he thought about his brother and all terrorist victims as he watched the ceremony.

``It's unbelievable when you hear the names being read and the 168 seconds of silence,'' Gardner said. ``It was inspiring. There are no words to really describe how peaceful a place this is.''

They brought 171 white carnations to the ceremony _ one for each bombing victim and three for unborn children who died in the blast.

William Rodriguez was a survivor pulled from the twin towers' rubble. He said he came to show support for the Oklahomans who visited New York last fall.

``The support that they gave us was very important because we didn't have any cathartic, emotional exchange with anyone who had gone through what we were going through,'' he said. ``They are actually teaching us how to keep going.''