April 19, 2005
OKLAHOMA CITY - With flowers, teddy bears and poignant memories, people touched by the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history gathered Tuesday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial for the 10th anniversary of the deadly act.
A moment of silence was planned for each of the 168 victims of the bombing that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.
One bus brought 53 people, all wearing T-shirts with LaKesha Levy's photo on the front and the words "a shared experience."
Levy's aunt, Gail Batiste, said friends and family came from all over the country to remember the outgoing 21-year-old, who had gone to the building that morning to get a Social Security card.
"It's good that Oklahoma remembers," Batiste said.
Other people put flowers and teddy bears on the 168 chairs at the memorial.
Juanita Espinosa, wiped away tears as she stood in front of the chair of her cousin, Zackary Chavez, 2 1/2.
"They found his head one week, and his body another week," she said. "It's still too much to think about."
Vice President Cheney and former President Clinton were scheduled to speak. Clinton was president when Timothy McVeigh's truck bomb blew off the north side of the building at precisely 9:02 a.m.
McVeigh was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001. Conspirator Terry Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on federal and state charges.
There was heavy security in the First United Methodist Church, adjacent to the memorial, as survivors and family members waited to hear the speeches. Security officers used metal detectors to inspect everything from flowers to diaper bags.
Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who was in office during the bombing, said the anniversary was bittersweet.
"It's bitter because it never should have occurred and sweet because the people of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City showed the country how to respond to a tragedy," he said.
Jenny Parsley, who seldom visits the memorial on the grounds of the destroyed building, planned to attend Tuesday's ceremony.
"I knew most of the people killed," Parsley, 57, said. "I lost a lot of good friends, too many."
Her decision to go in late, after a 10 a.m. doctor's appointment, saved her from the blast that killed 35 people in the Housing and Urban Development office where Parsley worked.
"For some reason I decided to go in after my appointment," she said. "I got up early that morning and got dressed and got ready to go to work and just decided not to go."
When she saw the thick black smoke over downtown, she thought it was a fire at a tire plant until she turned on the radio. She drove to her husband's office and discovered that her college-age son was with him, both thinking she was in the building when the bomb exploded.
"They were crying," she said. "When I got there, I just fell apart."
When the new federal building was dedicated last year, near the bombing site, Parsley took early retirement.
Larry Whicher, 44, of Russellville, Ark., said the passage of time had tempered his grief and his anger. The bombing killed his brother, Alan Whicher, who worked in the Secret Service office.
"You learn to accept it. You can't change it, so why carry that bitterness for your entire life?"
Jon Hansen, an assistant fire chief at the time of the blast, was preparing for a meeting at a fire station five blocks west when the bomb went off.
"It shook our building," he said. "We looked to the east and saw an enormous mushroom cloud.
"We drove toward the building and I'll never forget how when we topped the hill with the sun low in the east, the street and sidewalks just glistened with broken glass."