It doesn’t feel like it has been 25 years. Much has happened since then, but the morning of April 19, 1995, is still stuck in my head. Those of us who worked downtown on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing will never forget that morning. Everything changed the moment that booming sound of the blast hit and shook our world.
I did not lose a friend or loved one in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, but most of us know someone who did. The jolt we felt at 9:02 a.m. connects us to them: the 168. We will always know that at that moment, or in the minutes soon thereafter, those men and women and children died. That thought will not go away.
Like many Oklahomans, I couldn’t sleep the night of April 19. Instead, I retraced in my head my drive to work that morning. What turns I made. What cars I saw. The downtown street I was on when it happened. The deafening sound and the scene of broken glass. The looks on people’s faces.
My brain repeated those moments over and over again, trying to make some sense of it all. What had really happened? And why?
Sometime in the middle of the night, I sat down and started writing about it, and I didn’t finish until the next morning. The following is what I wrote, presented without edits or changes.
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I was driving into work shortly after 9 a.m. when the explosion occurred.
I was at a stop light at Kerr and Robinson streets when the large boom rocked the ground.
It sounded like the boom from a lightning strike within a hundred feet or less away — but the sky was clear.
It felt like I had hit a huge pothole in the street, except that I was already stopped at the time. The car rocked to the right and left. Within four to five seconds glass started raining down on my car. I didn’t think it would ever stop. It kept pelting the top of the car.
At that point there wasn’t any question but that it was an explosion.
Or, I thought that a plane had crashed into one of the downtown office buildings. But I thought the building I was next to had had an explosion or been hit and pieces of the building were about to drop 20 stories on top of me.
There was another car in front. We were both stopped at the red light. When it turned green I just wanted for this guy to go — to get out of there. But he didn’t.
It seemed like a long wait and I ducked down just in case. Less than 15 seconds after the explosion the sirens began wailing and an Oklahoma Highway Patrol car sped north on Robinson Avenue — which is a one way street south — so I knew the source of all this was somewhere to my north. I couldn’t see to the north because of the buildings in the way.
Four to five-foot pieces of metal from atop the nearby office buildings fell around my car onto the street. I looked to my right at the building next to me and saw that all the plate glass windows were gone.
The draperies were flapping out onto the sidewalk. I knew that whatever had happened, it was close. But I also knew then that it was over.
As I drove to our office building in the next block, billowing smoke started to cover overhead.
The amazing thing is I work in an all-glass building, Leadership Square, and it has very little glass damage. It is a newer building, constructed about 1986. All the older buildings in an eight to 10 block area downtown have almost all their windows blown out, except some of the newer buildings.
The people in our office at the time, on the eighth floor, said the building shook and then swayed.
When I parked my car I saw that hundreds of jagged pieces and chunks of glass covered it. There were some gouges in the paint. My windshield had been cracked in three places. And there were several deep dents on the car top where debris had struck.
I’m just glad I wasn’t walking along the sidewalk then or I would have been one of those cut up from the glass.
By the time I got to our office lobby, people began pouring out of the elevators. They didn’t know what had happened. Within 15 minutes the streets were full of people. Fire truck sirens were going off. Helicopters were flying low overhead.
The TV news reported there had been an explosion at the Murrah federal building.
A lot of people were in tears, obviously worried about family who worked in the federal building or nearby.
About 500 to 1,000 people walked up Robinson Street and stood to see the destruction. I could see them from my office window (it didn’t break, but pictures on my wall had fallen down).
About 10:30 a.m. those same people were running back down Robinson away from the Murrah building. It was an eerie scene.
Policemen on horseback were riding fast down the street. Police told some of us later that an unexploded bomb had been found in the wreckage.
They ordered all the downtown office buildings evacuated. We shut our office down, and so did everyone else in our building.
There was a big traffic jam by 11 a.m. as all the office workers were trying to drive out of downtown. Several of our employees could not get to their cars. The parking garage they were in was closed because police told us there had been a telephone call that there was a bomb there.
At this point you don’t know what’s going on. Whether there was a bomb, is a bomb or what. It was just a lot easier to get everyone out, just in case.
You know you read about our law enforcement and emergency people have plans for such disasters. It was very evident they knew what they were doing. The response was incredibly fast. When I left about 11 a.m. there were fire department units stationed at various intersections, apparently on call for any further explosions or fires.
Ambulances were lined up two abreast, and 10 or 11 deep waiting to be called, if needed. They were stationed on the edge of downtown like taxis at an airport. I was impressed by the organized and immediate response by emergency crews.
As I drove home back to Norman there were streams of OHP cruisers and sheriff’s deputies hurrying with lights flashing into Oklahoma City.
Back in the 1970s when the big riot occurred at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary I remember the troopers driving into McAlester from all directions. It looked like that.
The state Department of Transportation crews had blocked off all I-40 exits downtown, except to emergency vehicles. Ambulances were coming in from all over.
From our office you could see the southside of the Murrah federal building. It was the north side that was exploded away from the building. But from the south all the windows in the upper floors — 7th, 8th and 9th floors — were busted out and you could see all the way through the inside of the building.
There was no movement inside. I cannot imagine anyone surviving both the explosion and the collapse of the upper floors.
I remember as a kid around McAlester hearing the booms from the Ammunition Depot when they would detonate some old explosives. And I’ve heard the low muffled sounds of the explosions on the range at Fort Sill.
Now I know what that’s like from two or three blocks away. The ground shaking and the glass falling was enough to make me pretty shaky for two or three hours. But to think of the loss of life and how close away it was — that makes it even more scary and sad.
The glass debris on the downtown sidewalks looked like the pictures of the recent San Francisco earthquake.
I’ve represented in litigation companies that do demolition work with the use of explosives. So, I’ve learned a little about the characteristics of common explosives and blasting equipment. Most of the damage from this blast to surrounding buildings was caused by the concussion effect of the explosion.
But the earth rocked too. It had to be a tremendous force and you have to be concerned about the structural integrity of the office buildings and churches nearby.
Dama was in class at the Oklahoma City University law school about two and a half miles away. She said it rocked the building.
One of our firm’s lawyers was in trial in Oklahoma County District Court. The county courthouse is also only about three blocks from the federal building. As they were about to convene on the eighth floor of that building it violently shook and the large plate glass windows in the courtroom crashed down inside. Venetian blinds kept the glass from scattering over the lawyers and the jury. She said all the jurors ran out. No one knows where they are. Needless to say, they didn’t continue their trial.
Funny thing, the Oklahoma County commissioners have been dragging their feet about putting in those x-ray security stations leading into the county courthouse. I don’t think they will now.
We had one of our office delivery boys driving a block and a half away when the explosion shook his car. He said he saw people with severely lacerated arms running from the scene.
People pay money to go see movies about things like this. I don’t think I ever will again.
Perhaps my reporter instincts are dormant. Being this close to such an event and knowing the devastation, my inclination is to stay away from downtown — not go look at it.
In a way that kind of surprises me. But I’d just as soon pretend this didn’t happen.
If only I could.