On April 19, 1995, around nine o’clock in the morning a bomb exploded at Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bomb was made of forty-eight-hundred-pound ammonium nitrate–fuel oil bomb and was placed in in a Ryder truck parked at the north entrance of the Federal Building (Edward, 2017). The force of the explosion distorted the front of the Murrah Building, shattering a number of support columns and exposing its ragged innards. Some victims in the Murrah building fell from the fifth or sixth floors to their deaths as the structure pancaked to some extent. The building had a day care center which was situated on the second floor which fell down to the first floor. The bodies and body parts of kids seemed to be everywhere. The bomb blast blew off roofs and fronts of buildings across the street, killing several people in those structures. Numerous downtown buildings nearly fell down from the magnitude of the explosion. Hundreds more buildings were damaged. A massive crater opened on the street in front of the Murrah building, surrounded by a tremendous amount of debris and a crowd of shocked, injured, and dying people (Anti-Defamation League, 1995).
First responders, that is, the police, firefighters, and some citizens rushed to the scene, extracting bodies and some survivors, giving first aid, as well as guiding the dazed, bloody and traumatized survivors to safety. With the Murrah Building still unstable and collapsing, a number of first responders were injured (Anti-Defamation League, 1995). The bomb killed one hundred and sixty-eight people and injured approximately eight hundred and fifty. A report from the governor’s office stated that thirty kids were orphaned, two hundred and nineteen kids lost at least one parent, four hundred and sixty-two people were displaced, and seven thousand people lost their place of work. The City of Oklahoma released the City’s Final Report that estimated property damage to more than three hundred buildings in a forty-eight-square-block area.
What ensued after was the media recklessly spreading accusations that the perpetrators were Islamic terrorists. This led to two days of intensive anti-Muslim frenzy all over the country. However, the arrests of Timothy McVeigh as well as Terry Nichols brought the uncomfortable realization that the offenders were military veterans of the Gulf War. These two men found convincing the conspiratorial world view of militia culture and viewed the bombing as a justifiable attack against the United States’ federal government, where McVeigh characterized the killing of innocents “collateral damage.”
On August 10, 1995, Timothy McVeigh along with Terry Nichols were indicted in United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma for several charges. These charges include: conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, usage of such a weapon, destruction by explosive, as well as eight counts of first-degree murder. In addition, an accomplice known as Michael J. Fortier was also indicted on four counts, together with conspiracy to transport stolen firearms. On June 2, 1997, the court found McVeigh guilty on all counts and he was executed on June 11, 2001. On December 24, 1997, Terry Nichols was found guilty of conspiracy and murder and sentenced to life in jail with no parole. On May 27 1998, Michael J. Fortier was sentenced to twelve years in jail.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was the country’s worst single act of domestic terrorism. The media coverage about the incident was Intensive and enduring and it created an imagined mourning community where people all over the world felt emotionally linked with the deceased’s grieving family members, who frequently appeared on television to eulogize their loved ones, with bloodied survivors who related their traumatic stories of escape and rescue efforts of fellow workers and friends, as well as with professional rescuers, whose grim work changed almost immediately from rescue of the living to the recovery of the dead people (Edward, 2017).
Narratives developed by Four master assisted people locate the bombing in a coherent interpretive context. There was a “progressive narrative” that celebrated the “Oklahoma standard,” the unselfish actions of thousands of people who wanted to assist in numerous ways. This narrative imagined a city strengthened by its courageous response, recommitting itself to huge programs of urban renewal in addition to other acts of civic development. A “redemptive narrative” developed in this overwhelmingly conservative Protestant country, as religious groups struggled with issues of forgiveness, doubt, as well as the presence, or absence, of God and Jesus Christ. Popular religiosity proclaimed that there were angels flying above the ruins who aided people in their journey to the heavenly world, convictions that were also frequently expressed in material things left on the memorial fence that surrounded the bombing site (Edward, 2001)..
A “toxic narrative” also arose out of the bomb’s continuing impact on the bodies and souls of so many people. This narrative was a story of an unfinished bombing, as suffering plus unresolved sorrow provided a sobering counterpoint to those who too easily utilized pop psychology language of “closure” as well as “healing.” There are, this narrative sadly warned, occasions that must be borne and not resolved. Lastly, a “traumatic narrative” altered people who were affected by political violence into patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This narrative did not touch on injustice or sin but of a weak and passive self-beset by scrounging painful memories, unlike the religious narratives of suffering, sorrow, and hope, Even amid those people most seared by loss, the labels of patients and victims did not always sit well with them, and many survivors and family members resorted to different forms of active grief to respond to the bombing, for instance: expression through the arts and work for victims’ rights, through work for habeas corpus reform, pro- and anti-death-penalty activism, , and through participation in private as well as public forms of memorialization.
Within days of the bombing unsolicited memorial ideas poured into Oklahoma City. By July 1995 the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building Memorial Task Force was created. The task force was composed of ten committees and an advisory committee of one hundred and sixty people. The task force was chaired by Oklahoma City attorney Robert Johnson. It started by forming a mission statement which declared the purpose of the memorial would be to remember those people who were murdered, those people who survived as well as those changed forever. The Task Force had to negotiate difficult matters. They had to persuade the city to shut down Fifth Street, which ran in front of the Murrah Site, so as to create a big memorial place. A subcommittee had difficulties in trying to define who was a “survivor,” given that the mission statement called for the names of those who survived to be placed on the site also as the names of those killed. they also had to make a design competition for the physical memorial (Edward, 2017).
On June 24, 1997, after a two-stage selection process, a fifteen-member selection committee, which comprised of eight survivors and family members, chose the design of Hans and Torrey Butzer from more than six hundred submissions. Large “gates of time,” froze the time of the bombing on the site. The area comprised of the Survivor Tree as well as the Journal Record Building, which houses a museum, archives, and research center for the prevention of terrorism, mounted tablets with survivors’ names written on them, a long, shallow reflecting pool, and perhaps the most unique feature, one hundred and sixty-eight lighted chairs marked by the names of those killed during the bombing (Marsha, 1998).
Similar to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the National Memorial in Oklahoma City is an environment that provides not only commemorative mourning space, but offers protest against acts of violence through a museum exhibition, educational programs, as well as research opportunities, unlike any other major memorial project up to that time. However, its process was exceptional, always offering a primary voice in deliberations to survivors and family members, and offering a grieving community the opportunity to engage the tragedy through the creation of a distinctive memorial.
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- Anti-Defamation League (1995). The History of the Oklahoma City Bombing.
- Final Report on the Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building: April 19, 1995 (N.p.: Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee, 2001).
- Edward, T. (2017). Oklahoma City Bombing, The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.
- Edward, T. (2001). The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Marsha, K. (1998). Forever Changed: Remembering Oklahoma City. Amherst, New York.: Prometheus Books.