15 years later, grief lingers in Oklahoma City
2,000 gather to honor fallen | 1995 bombing left 168 dead
OKLAHOMA CITY — It has been 15 years since a terrorist’s bomb destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168 people and injuring more than 600 others.
The passage of time hasn’t made mourning any easier for many victims’ family members.
“Time heals nothing,’’ said Debi Burkett Moore, whose brother, US Department of Housing and Urban Development worker David Burkett, was killed. She and other family members placed flowers on an empty chair meant to honor her brother that’s among a field of chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
“It makes it a little more bearable, but it heals nothing,’’ Moore said.
About 2,000 people gathered at the memorial yesterday to honor those killed and injured in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At the time, it was the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil.
During the ceremony, US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the city’s spirit in the wake of the tragedy served as an example to the nation.
Napolitano also said the bombing anniversary was a reminder of “the continued need for vigilance against the violent ideologies that led to this attack, so that we can recognize their signs in our communities and stand together to defeat them.’’
“We cannot put a glass dome over our country. We cannot guarantee there will not be another attack. No one can,’’ Napolitano said. “But we are a strong and resilient country. And we can resolve that even a successful attack will not defeat our way of life.’’
For many in attendance, a visit to the memorial is an annual rite, a way to pause and remember a loved one, former colleague, friend, or neighbor who died in the attack.
Kathryn Burkett, the mother of David Burkett, said she grows sadder by his absence with each passing year. “Why it is sadder? I don’t know why,’’ Burkett said. “You just live with it.’’
Other victims’ family members said they, too, still feel a deep grief 15 years after the bombing.
“I don’t make it here every year. It’s just too hard. It’s just like yesterday,’’ said Cornelius Lewis III, who wore a T-shirt and medallion that bore the portrait and nickname, “Puddin,’’ of his late sister, Social Security Administration employee Charlotte Thomas.
“In 15 years, I would never miss it,’’ said her mother, Bettie Lewis. “This is part of our lives. I would never miss it.’’
Another of Thomas’s brothers, Guy Lewis, said his sister’s life will never be forgotten thanks to new curriculum guidelines for Oklahoma students that mandate instruction about the Oklahoma City bombing and its aftermath.
“She’s going to be in the history books. Her memory is going to live forever,’’ he said.
Vickie Lykins and her sister, Angela Richerson, placed a rose, an American flag, and a purple ribbon on the chair honoring their mother, Norma “Jean’’ Johnson, a former Defense Security Service worker who was killed.
“This is our mother’s favorite color,’’ Lykins said as she solemnly secured the ribbon to the chair. Lykins said she misses her mother “very much’’ but preferred to keep her feelings about the bombing anniversary and her mother’s death to herself.
“There’s a lot of things we could say. But we won’t,’’ she said.
Across Oklahoma City, people observed 168 seconds of silence to honor the dead. Some dabbed away tears as the ceremony closed with family members reading a roll call of those who died.
“What defines us as a nation, as a people, and as communities is not what we have suffered, but how we have risen above it, how we’ve overcome,’’ Napolitano said.
Among those attending the ceremony was Charlie Hangar, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper who stopped bomber Timothy McVeigh on Interstate 35 the day of the blast because his 1977 Mercury Marquis did not have a license plate.
Hangar, now the Noble County sheriff, read the memorial’s mission statement at the start of the service.
US Representative Mary Fallin, an Oklahoma Republican and the state’s lieutenant governor at the time of the bombing, read a congressional resolution commemorating the anniversary.
Prosecutors said McVeigh’s plot was an attempt to avenge the deaths of nearly 80 people in the government siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, exactly two years earlier.
McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and executed in 2001. McVeigh’s Army buddy, Terry Nichols, was convicted on federal and state bombing-related charges and is serving multiple life sentences at a federal prison in Colorado.
April 19 is a significant date for many antigovernment and gun rights groups because it marks the Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord. Several such groups held demonstrations yesterday.