Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Where were you when you heard that Elvis had died? Or John Lennon? Where were you when you found out JFK had been assassinated? Where were you sixteen years ago on April 19, 1995?

Many people won’t remember the date, but they remember what happened. Today, April 19, is the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here in Oklahoma City. Up to that date, it was the largest number of deaths on U.S. soil caused by a terrorist act. That record was broken, of course, on September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had gone to work. My job at McDonald’s Corporate Offices was located several miles from the downtown area. I was the “complaint person”—the one everyone called to report everything from an incorrect order to a pot hole in the drive-through on Forty-Ninth Street. We had just received a call from a man who was attempting to sue McDonald’s for a scratch on his car’s paint job. I’d transferred him to my supervisor, irritated at his persistence.

At 9:02, the building shook, and plaster fell from the ceiling onto my desk, and into my hair. We were on the seventh floor of the building, but were not panicked about the safety of the structure.

Someone hooked up the small TV that was used for videos in conferences and we all made our way into the conference room. The picture was grainy since the TV wasn’t on cable, but we were able to see the first reports as they began to come in.

In the beginning, the explosion was thought to be caused by natural gas. Within the hour, though, those initial reports were negated and the public was told the truth. Unbelievably, it had been some kind of bomb.

Another chilling fact was quickly disclosed. Since no one was sure of why the federal building had been targeted, federal and state employees were being sent home from offices in other locations.

My husband worked for the Federal Aviation Administration at the time. Normally, he would have been released. But since he was a former SEAL with extensive military training, he and some of the others with a military background were asked to stay and help do a bomb sweep of the FAA training facility.

The entire facility was on lockdown. This meant I couldn’t get on base to pick up our son, Casey, who attended the daycare there.

Within the next hour, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law, Esta, in West Virginia. You had to know Esta to know, when she put her mind to something, she got it done. In a world gone crazy, with telephone circuits busy and no hope of getting through, she somehow managed without even having my direct number. All she knew was that I worked at the corporate office for McDonald’s.

When I answered the phone on my desk, at the other end of the line was an operator that Esta had commandeered, explained what had happened, and talked into placing the call through as a person-to-person emergency call. I assured the operator that I was Cheryl Pierson and thanked her for placing the call. She sounded worried. “How bad is it?” she asked. “We aren’t sure,” I told her. There was silence for a moment before she turned the call over to my mother-in-law. “Take care, hon,” she said. “We’re all praying for you.” Her voice was gravelly with emotion. That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I didn’t tell my mother-in-law that Gary was still at the FAA, unable to leave. Or that Casey was there, and I couldn’t get on base to get him. I promised to call her when we knew more. I had to get Jessica from school.

You see, the fear was not knowing. Not knowing, at that point, who had done it, or why? How many people were involved? Were they going to target other federal or state agencies…or schools?

I drove to my daughter’s elementary school. The parking lot was full, even though it was not quite 11:30. I asked Jessica if she knew what had happened and was shocked to find out they had had the children in the auditorium with the television on for a big part of the morning…until things got too graphic.

“Are Dad and Casey home yet?”

I put on my best smile. “No, not yet. They’ll be along shortly.”

An hour or so later, prayers were answered and Gary pulled into the driveway with Casey. But our world was changed forever that day.

As the news coverage continued, it was a nightmare we dealt with every day for at least a year: The deaths, the images of loss that came from that day, and the anger.

But there was good that came from it, too. Oklahomans showed the pioneer spirit of those who came before us and rose to the occasion. Because of that tragedy in 1995, we learned the hard way that a terrorist can be home-grown, but we kept strong and showed the world where the bar of the “Oklahoma Standard” was set. When 9/11 happened, many of our first responders and medical trauma professionals rushed immediately to New York City. We were the only other state that had had anything remotely similar happen, and the experience to lend a hand.

Though, thankfully, no one in our family was hurt or killed in that tragedy of April 19, 1995, I don’t know anyone who didn’t know someone—however remotely—that it touched.

I had to quit my job. Casey began having nightmares, and believed his daycare was going to “blow up.” When he built a Lego “daycare” with part of the wall gone and the flag lying in a heap of Lego bricks, I knew I needed to be home with him. Eventually, his fears passed.

But the sadness will always remain for those who lost their lives in that senseless act of terrorism; for those since who have taken their own lives due to “survivor guilt;” for the end of the innocence we might have still harbored—the feeling that we were safe in the heartland of America.

As the years pass, we tend to forget. But as painful as those memories are, we cannot afford to lose the hard-won lessons.

A beautiful memorial museum stands on the site today. There is a chain link fence surrounding part of the grounds where visitors come to leave remembrances and mementos. In sixteen years, I still have not been able to bring myself to visit the museum. I’m glad we have it, and that people come to pay their respects. I don’t need to see it, though. I lived it. And I will never, ever forget.


Missy Jane said...

I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, visiting a friend and playing with my seven month old daughter, when the newsflash came on the TV. I remember exactly what the image of the building looked like, torn and broken, and the horror I felt from that image alone. It wasn't until later, after I'd gone back home, that I realized the full extent of our losses. I still haven't been able to visit the memorial site because the thought of all of those lost lives and especially the children shatters me.

Tina Donahue said...

What a sad day - I recall it vividly - and the photos of the injured. What a tragic world we live in when monsters can do things like this and innocents lose their lives.

Delaney Diamond said...

Thank you for this reminder, Cheryl. I will never understand the motivation behind the mass murder of innocents in the name of a cause.

Debby said...

What a powerful memory that must be! Thank you fro this post reminding us of that. I am a teacher and we concentrating on keeping our students aware and not panicked.

Redameter said...

I was home watching TV. DIsaster is always devastating and sometimes when you see it on TV it's like a movie playing out and you shake yourself and say, "But it's for real."

Wake up calls is what I call them. The one thing that stirs when this happens is patriotism. You'll find Americans of every color
stirred to defend their country. and that's the good that comes from it. THE bad effects last a lot longer.

But they can't keep America down long. We still have a lot of that forefather loyalty in us. And we are always the strongest when we have been taken advantage of.

Love and blessings

Cheryl Pierson said...

Missy Jane,

Yes. I think the images of the kids being carried out had to be the worst--especially the firefighter carrying Bailey Almon out. I think that was the first time that our country had truly pulled together as one nation since Pearl Harbor was attacked. You know, I doubt that I will ever be able to go to the memorial. That's okay, though. I'll always remember that day and the aftermath. Thanks so much for your comment, Missy Jane.

Cheryl Pierson said...

I agree. You have to wonder what made Tim McVeigh into the person he was, to think of that and carry it out, as young as he was. Of course, they hounded and haunted until they found his family--mother and sister, and I think his dad, and interviewed them. His sister seemed relatively normal and couldn't understand what "had happened" to bring him to that point. It burns me up to think of Terry Nichols sitting in prison and demanding certain foods because of "his religion." There was something on the news about that the other day. Still trying to make headlines from his jail cell.
Thank you for commenting--I know you are really busy.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Delaney,
Nor will I--and it has been going on for centuries in one form or another, hasn't it? It's unbelievable to me that someone could kill children and call it "collateral damage."

Anonymous said...

I lived and worked in Michigan at the time. I heard it over the radio while I was at work in a physical rehab facility. We dug out the center TV so we could watch the coverage. Later, when it was determined who was responsible, I recall the media in my home state talking about "the Michigan connection," and it made me sick to think of the way the news was sensationalizing that connection just for the ratings. Such a sad time, and almost the start of an era of senseless attacks proving man's inhumanity to man a reality, not just a term in fiction writing. Great post!

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Debby,
Yes, it is really powerful, even now. Thankfully, the city government here marks the occasion every year with a remembrance ceremony.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Rita,
You're right about the patriotism. And the way we, as Americans, all drew together to comfort each other and to help.

They say that McVeigh glared at the cameras until he died. I remember thinking how hard it was to believe that one of our own people could have done such a thing. And the odd way he was caught was amazing. God does work in mysterious ways. I'm sure McVeigh was surprised as heck to not even make it out of the state. A trooper pulled him over for not having a license plate on his car. All that planning and he gets caught by a stupid mistake anyway.

Thank you for coming by and commenting, Rita. I know you are busy with your big move and all--hope you are getting settled in and liking it!


Linda Swift said...

Cheryl, thank you for reminding us of the date that all of us should remember. My husband did a consulting job in OK. City in 2001 and I was with him there a week. We did visit the memorial museum which wasn't totally completed at that time. But the most touching thing for me was the reflection pool and rows of stone chairs with the victims' names. Unforgettable.
Thank you for this post and your story of what it was like to be there when the tragedy occured.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Kay,

It's amazing, isn't it, what the media will say and do for coverage. I don't know if you remember this or not, but Connie Chung was sent here to cover that story for NBC, I think it was. She asked some of the dumbest most insulting questions. Finally it came to a head when she asked Jon Hanson, the fire chief, something like "Do you think you'll be able to handle something of this magnitude here in Oklahoma City?" You could just see everyone looking at each other in disbelief and disgust. It was phrased and asked like she thought because it had happened in Oklahoma City instead of New York City that the people here wouldn't have the ability to deal with it. He set her straight right then, and she was pulled off the assignment and within a few weeks she left the network. But I know what you're saying about how the media always tries to sensationalize what's happened and connect it back to the state somehow. GOOD GRIEF! Thanks so much for commenting, Kay. Thanks for remembering.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Linda,
Oh yes. That reflection pool and the chairs are very touching, aren't they? It is a beautiful memorial. Thanks so much for your comment and for remembering.

LK Hunsaker said...

Touching post, Cheryl. You're right - we can't forget and we can't let our guards down. I can't imagine why the school would show that to those kids. They did it in my daughter's school on 9/11, also, before I could get there to pick her up. She was only 7 miles from the Pentagon and watching the coverage of that on TV. Yikes.

Celia Yeary said...

I remember, Cheryl. Since we're neighbors to OK, we thought we might be next. After all, we assumed this to be a terroist's act, never thinking the villian was one of our own.

My mother and her husband were here, parked out on the Interstate in an RV park. It was a Wednesday...right?...and since it was raining a little, I couldn't go play golf with my WGA group. So I drove out to visit Mother.
As soon as I stepped in the trailer, she asked, "Have you seen what's happening?" No, I said. I hadn't watched tv or listened to the radio. What? I asked.
"They've bombed Oklahoma City!" She made it sound like the entire city was gone or something, her typical way to tell a story.
We watched it it, unbelieveing.
Since I had the day to kill I drove to the next town where a sewing store was going out of business..I wanted sequins, ribbons, stuff like that to do my crafts...and a tv hung from a corner of the store. About 20 women--and me--stood in a group, staring up at the destruction and horror.
No, we'll never forget....but this young generation will. Celia

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Loraine,
They did that again on 9/11 here, too! Jessica told me some of the kids were getting sick watching some of that coverage. I can only imagine what your daughter must have been thinking, being so close to the Pentagon. It makes you wonder what ever possessed the school administration to let that go on. Evidently, it was going on all over America. Thanks for coming by and commenting Loraine. You're right, we can never let our guard down again.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Celia,
It's odd that you say that about the young generation. Jessica (who is 24) told me the other day that she couldn't believe that some of the kids that come to acting classes there where she works didn't know about the Oklahoma City bombing. It amazed her! (I think it made her feel OLD!)LOL Anyhow, you are right--there are kids who are teenagers now who weren't alive when that happened, and you know the history books in school now are just appalling in the lack of information. It's all about "testing" rather than learning what HAPPENED. But off the soapbox. I know you are traveling and visiting family, and I appreciate you taking the time to come by and comment. Thanks for remembering and sharing your memory with us.

StephB said...

Cheryl, what a poignant telling of your story. It really put me right there with you. I can't tell you what I was doing, but I was stationed at Ft. Irwin, CA on that date and I remember just feeling horrified that something like this could occur on American soil.

The same feelings well up inside of me when I think of Challenger and Christa McAffaule (sp?).

It's nice to hear there's a museum and a place to leave flowers. People need that.


Joyce Henderson said...

Man's inhumanity to man rears its ugly face and deeds all too often. I watch some of the faces and hear some of the vicious words uttered by people demonstrating and wonder where civility, where simple love for one's fellow man has gone. Yes, I remember the Murrah building images, the 9/11 images, so many tragic events where senseless murder has occurred. And it IS murder. But then I'm reminded of the goodness and kindness in others and know that good people outnumber the vicious by far. Thank the Good Lord for that.

Fiona McGier said...

Doesn't it strike you as odd that some comments say that the schools should NOT have been showing coverage to the kids, and others are complaining that today's young people don't have a sense of history that they lived through, that they don't know what was going on? Maybe they don't know because the adults around them chose not to expose them to the evil that is all around us, thinking to protect them. But forewarned is forearmed. I talked with my kids about it after the bombing, and after 9/11. We watched the news together. I was disappointed that the schools did NOT talk about it in class. Schools are places of learning, not places of testing. And since my kids went to grade school with many Muslim kids, for me both times were an opportunity to stress that evil can be in any human being, any race/nationality/religion...especially religion. Those who believe that God is on their side, do terrible things in "His" name.

Caroline Clemmons said...

That bombing changed the lives of all Americans. Living in North Texas makes us "almost" Oklahomans, but I truly believe all Americans were astonished, saddened, and horrified because it was an attack on innocent people. At the time, we didn't know who created the bomb or why. How much sadder that it was our citizens rather than foreigners.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I had no idea you were involved in the Okalahoma bombing, Cheryl. How traumatic. Sad to say, as much as I remember many historical dates, today's date did not register with me until I read your blog.
Who would have ever thought before that day that we would have terrorist attacks in our country--not on American soil, surely. You're right, it changed everything. Although that day did initiate the beginnings of emergency response teams to terrorist attacks even as far away as here in NC, it wasn't until 9/11 that Americans really understood the magnitude of hatred some factions have against us and began to seriously create emergency response. But we carry on. We help each other to rebuild from the physical damage and the emotional trauma. In the face of inhumanity, we become lovingly, courageously human.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Steph!

Yes, it is nice that there is a museum and memorial there to commemmorate (think I spelled that wrong) the bombing. I think those feelings of disbelief that something like that could happen on American soil were echoed by the entire nation, and no one could believe that one of our own people had done it.

Thanks so much for coming by to comment, Steph. Thanks for remembering.


Cheryl Pierson said...

Joyce, you are so right. We hear about the ugliness and evil far more than the goodness that men do. Again, it's that sensationalism in many cases. But we also need to remember that there IS so much good out there, and that humans are capable of so much of that, too, and so many wonderful things. The outpouring of love and concern and kindness that came from that terrible day 16 years ago lives on even today. People remember the offerings of help and kindness and it outweighs the evil. Thanks for that reminder.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Fiona,
I think that when schools realize that testing is not the all important thing in the world (and of course, it's tied to funding in many cases, and jobs, etc.)then the world will turn around. I know that sounds odd to say, but in so many cases during the times when my kids were in school, the opportunity to learn is lost, buried beneath memorization and the mantra that starts in January about getting prepared for the testing that is coming up a month or six weeks away. But that's a whole other soapbox topic for me. LOL Good for you for using those times of attack as teaching opportunities. I think what bothered me was the fact that they were "live streaming" what was going on to the kids, not knowing WHAT was going to be shown next. For instance, a friend of mine stayed home sick that day, and a brick wall fell where her desk was--she would have been killed. Her daughter was in my daughter's class, and they were showing the people being carried out of that building (it was across the street from the federal building.) So if her mom had been at work that day, she would have been watching them carry her out. I wish they would teach more history in schools. Our kids need that. But my objection was the fact that they were having the kids watch it as it was happening with no filter. Thank you so much for commenting, and for remembering, Fiona. You are so right about people doing terrible things in God's name. It's just unbelievable.

Cheryl Pierson said...

You are so right. I think for me, that was one of the saddest things of all, to know that someone who was so young and that had been raised in America would do such a thing to his fellow countrymen. And you are so right when you make the point that everyone in the nation was saddened and felt the loss. There was such a swell of love and offerings of help from EVERYWHERE, I can tell you, everyone in Oklahoma was overwhelmed with it, and so appreciative. We will never forget that, either. Thanks so much for coming by and for remembering.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hey Sarah!
Boy, you are so right with all your comments. I think after we got over the shock of what had happened, the anger immediately followed, along with the sorrow. But love always wins, and is always stronger than anything. The outpouring of love and concern from our countrymen was amazing. Thanks so much for remembering. I appreciate you--I know you are busy promoting Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride right now.

Miriam Newman said...

Thank you for reminding us, Cheryl.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Miriam,
You are welcome, and thanks so much for coming by!

Pommawolf said...

There have been 3 times while I was sitting on a city bus in the 90's going to and from college when tragic events have been broadcast the radio. One being the bombing of a bank in the city where I grew up, the bombing in Oklahoma, and the murder of a friend of my husband and me. Those were the times when you wish you weren't alone, but instead surrounded by strangers and see their reactions to the painful events unfolding and feeling helpless and not being able to do something about it.
The bombing in Oklahoma was the worst because all I could think of was why did this happen & feeling what can I do to help? Of course no immediate answers to the first thought, and I listened to the crying of the other passengers on the bus trying not to cry myself. I remember hearing so many others talking about donating money, but even more donating blood at the local blood bank just a couple blocks away along the bus route. It made me feel that there are so many more good people willing to give rather to opt out of this tragedy. And how many people took this act of violence personally as we should. We are all a part of the human race, and for so many to step up to help when things seem at there worst. I joined the 14-15 people that got off the bus at the blood bank, and felt proud of being a part of doing something good.
I am so sorry for your son's memories, and wish only the best for you and yours. And you are so right we shouldn't forget. We should never ever forget.

Cheryl Pierson said...

I know just what you mean about being with strangers and that bond that just instantly forms. HOW WONDERFUL that so many of you got off the bus and took action at the blood bank! I think sometimes when things like that happen, we are just immobilized by the shock of it. Then we tend to think, "they probably have enough blood, money, etc." But I think it's so wonderful when people actually DO something--that's is something you'll never regret or forget. I was so lucky that I was able to quit my job and stay home with my son after that happened. When I think of how many kids that were traumatized by that, just by seeing it on the news, hearing people discuss it, and so on--it really opened my eyes. Kids see and hear and pick up on things that we don't normally think of--they are like sponges. Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your experiences!

Brenda Hyde said...

I can't imagine how frightened you must have been. I remember the day of 9-11 my son was in elementary school and he had a really rough time; too young to completely understand but old enough to be frightened. I was already at home then, and I walked them to and from school. I think staying home with your son must have made a big difference to him, with the bombing happening so close. I'm so glad you were all okay, but it's sad that so many weren't.

Diane Craver said...

As I read your account of what it was like on April 19th, I was afraid someone in your family died or was injured. I was relieved to hear your children and husband were okay. It's so terrible and sad what happened. Thank you for sharing your first person and moving experience of April 19. I remember being horrified and couldn't believe something like that had happened.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Brenda,

I was so lucky to be able to quit my job and stay home with my son. You're right--it did make a big difference to him, and much as he loved his daycare, after that happened, he didn't want to go back there. I think so often we don't realize how these things affect our kids--we think that they're too young to realize what's happened. But that isn't always the case, and the uncertainty for them is sometimes just as frightening as knowing what happened. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Brenda, and for remembering.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Diane,
I was a Girl Scout leader that year with a co-leader whose husband was a police officer. She told me the next couple of days after it happened that he had confided in her that it was a "living hell" down there. No one could believe it had happened, but you just do what you have to do and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Thanks so much for your comments, Diane, and thans for remembering with us.

Anne Patrick said...

Although I didn't know anyone working in the Murrah Federal Building my heart ached for those who did. Having grown up not far from OKC, I'll always be an Okie at heart. So three days after the bombing my boyfriend and I planted a pear tree in my front yard in remembrance of the bombing. Now each spring when it blooms I always remember all those who where lost.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hello, Anne, my long lost Okie sister! LOL What a wonderful thing to do with the pear tree. It's great to see all the touching things people did to help or to remember that day. Thanks so much for coming by and for sharing your memories and your special commemmoration of the bombing anniversary with us. I wish I had thought to do something like that!

Teresa K. said...

Oh Cheryl honey,
I know this was a terrifying day for everybody. I cried along with everyone else. Especially being a mother and seeing those children perish. It's bad enough when adults pass but its a tragedy and a senseless cowardly act when a person harms children.

When 911 hit Washington at the Pentagon, I was terrified. My aunt worked at the Pentagon and when I couldn't reach her, I thought the worst. Your right it's the not knowing that is terrifying.
Thank you for remembering those who lost there lives that day. By telling there story and reminding us, that we shouldn't take anything for granted. I'm glad your son got over the nightmares.

Teresa K.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Teresa,
I think everyone across the US must have cried a river that day, and for several days thereafter--and people all over the world were outraged and touched by what they saw, as well. I agree, Teresa--seeing those children's little faces on the pictures of the dead that they posted was the worst.Thank you so much for coming by and commenting, and remembering with us. I'm so glad to know that your aunt was all right.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Cheryl,

Though I lived on the east coast, that bombing was on my radar screen for several reasons. As you know my husband is a huge Sooner fan, so he was glued to the tube. But I worked on an Army base. That bombing changed the way we did business. Cars were searched coming into the base. Concrete barriers were placed in front of every work building on post - you weren't allowed to park there anymore. I remember being horrified that this was a homegrown terrorist. Seemed like the secure boundaries of our world got a heck of a lot smaller.

Thought-provoking post.


Keena Kincaid said...

I was working at a newspaper then, although one in upstate New York, so we were working the phones to find out if anyone from the area was involved in any way. It was a sad day...and the start of so much grief.

Mona Risk said...

I know exactly where I was. I was at Naroche Lake, Belarus, having dinner with General E.N. and about seven colonels, the only woman present. One of the colonels said: I heard terrible news from your country. He told us what happened.

Cheryl Pierson said...

The same thing happened here at Tinker AFB. I had a good friend who was getting remarried and since her husband-to-be had just retired from the Navy, they decided to get married on the military base here in OKC. I was her matron of honor. On the day of her wedding (just a day or two after the bombing) it took us forever to get into the front gates. They were searching every car that came through there. The wedding was late getting started. I had forgotten that until you mentioned it. Thanks so much for stopping by and remembering.

Cheryl Pierson said...

Hi Keena,
Yes, it does seem like that was what started it all, doesn't it? Though I guess in all reality, it started with the first attempted bombing of the World Trade Center back earlier in the 90's, wasn't it? A few years before the Murrah Building. I think everyone realized that when McVeigh did what he did, no one was safe--and that is good and bad. We aren't so naive anymore.

Cheryl Pierson said...

What a memory that is for you! And what a way to find out! But even though hearing about it like that must have been awful, I'm sure that when you saw it on TV it really hit home even more. Thank you so much for sharing this memory with us.