Oklahoma City remembers decade of hope, promise kept

Oklahoma City remembers decade of hope, promise kept

Oklahoma City remembers decade of hope, promise kept

T.J. Gerlach

See the PDF of the Closer Look page by clicking “PDFs Online” to the left.

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ten years after a bomb destroyed three buildings and shook an entire state, thousands came to remember the lives lost, the people scarred and the brave people that came to the rescue.

On April, 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The blast killed 163 people in the building and five others in the surrounding area. A rescue worker would also die after being struck in the head by falling debris.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on the fifth anniversary of the attack. The memorial’s adopted the mission statement “We come here to remember, those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace hope and serenity.”

The memorial now holds deep symbolism for those effected by the attack.

“I think it’s a place people can come experience the magnitude of all the people that were killed,” said Kay Barry-DeMaster.

Barry-DeMaster lost her husband, Peter DeMaster, in the attack. DeMaster was a special agent for the Department of Defense.

“When you look at all the chairs, I think it kind of drives it home,” Barry-DeMaster said.

The chairs were chosen to commemorate the 168 victims because of the significance of an empty chair at a dinner table and all the memories associated with the person who should be seated there.

Barry-DeMaster said she comes every April 18. She said she cannot bear coming on April 19, so she comes the day before every year.

“This is the only time I come,” Barry-DeMaster said. “I can’t tolerate the thought his chair wouldn’t be decorated.”

She said she comes to the memorial after decorating DeMaster’s grave every year. She said his grave is more significant to her.

While members of some victims’ families come every year, others rarely visit the memorial.

Dawn Osborne’s cousin, Jo Ann Whittenberg, died in the attack. Though she goes to Whittenberg’s grave every year, Osborne made her first visit to the site this year.

“I wanted to get a picture of her chair,” Osborne said.

Whittenberg was a program assistant for Housing and Urban Development and had a twin sister.

Osborne said Whittenberg was a quiet, fun-loving person.

“She was the type of person that would never hurt anybody,” she said.

Osborne said the memorial should serve as a reminder to visitors.

“Hopefully, [visitors will take away] just a sense that we’ve kind of pulled ourselves back together,” she said. “We’ve moved on to a more peaceful place.”

Among the thousands of victims’ relatives and friends, survivors and visitors were many of the members of the search and rescue teams.

Jeff Kirkhurt helped out in the aftermath of the attack. He was 19 at the time and had just finished his search and rescue training in December 1994. He handled a search and rescue dog named Chili, who he brought to the memorial April 19.

“We just came to see all the people,” Kirkhurt said.

Chili was two years old then and had little experience.

“She did pretty well for as green as she was,” Kirkhurt said.

He and Chili searched the mainly the outskirts of the bombing site.

“We were just trying to work through and see what we could find,” Kirkhurt said.

A ceremony honoring all the heroes and victims of the attack was held at 9 a.m. April 19 at the First United Methodist Church across the street from the memorial.

Former president Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating were some of the dignitaries to speak at the ceremony.

The bombing of the Murrah Federal building was the worst terrorist attack on domestic soil until 9-11.