OKLAHOMA CITY — One of the visits I make periodically to conduct training sessions for other CNHI newspapers took me to Stillwater, Oklahoma last week.
I took a Southwest flight from Philadelphia to Oklahoma City, then got a rental car for the hour-long drive to Stillwater.
Before hitting the road to Stillwater, though, there was a stop I felt compelled to make.
With my colleague Jim Zachary, who’d flown in from Valdosta, Georgia, I went to the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, built to honor the victims and the many others impacted by the tragic Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995.
As the website for the memorial reminds us, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred when a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives was detonated while parked outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building here, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring hundreds more.
The attack was the work of American Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran with strong anti-government leanings. We later learned it was planned as part of McVeigh’s revenge for the deadly standoff between the FBI and Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993 — exactly two years prior. McVeigh was convicted in 1997 and executed in 2001. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols received multiple life sentences without a chance for parole.
The memorial opened on the fifth anniversary of the bombing. Walking around it Tuesday afternoon on a surprisingly warm February day, it affected me in the same way the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., always have.
Stark. Respectful. Quiet. Chill-inducing.
Built at the site of the bombing, the memorial does a tremendous job of capturing and reminding visitors of the events of that awful day.
Perhaps the most striking part of it is the array of 168 empty chairs — one for each of the victims of the bombing.
Touring the memorial brought a rush of memories for me as an American, but also as an editor. It turned out that McVeigh, arrested just less than two hours after the bombing on an unrelated charge, was a native of the upstate New York town of Pendleton in Niagara County, where I served as editor of the Niagara Gazette at the time.
The fact that the man accused and later convicted of being the Oklahoma City bomber was a local man shocked all of us in Western New York. Over the next several weeks, we worked what felt like non-stop to try to tell the local part of this murderous attack.
The 25th anniversary of that awful day will soon be upon us. We have a special report planned that will include coverage from CNHI colleagues in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City bombing, I think, sometimes gets lost in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that happened on Sept. 11. But it is still the worst act of domestic terrorism ever committed by an American citizen.
It remains a stark example of what can happen when one person decides to exact revenge for what he or she sees as an injustice.
Almost as stark as those 168 empty chairs, and the lives cut short they will always represent.
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