Thoughts on a visit to ground zero OKC before all the dead were found: a love letter to our first responders

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14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

 – Matthew 19:14

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I brought my wife and child to this killing field while the perimeter fence was still many blocks away from the blast site and while our first responders were still recovering the bodies and parts of bodies that had not long before been men and women, sons and daughters. Parents and grandparents.


It would not be too long until we moved to Oklahoma City and my duties as a lawyer for the accused frequently brought me to the federal courthouse that’s at the top of the above image. And, depending on where I parked, I might cross hallowed ground to get there. But there were other times that I came here – and I will go again – when the daylight was not yet standing watch. Times when I asked God why He wasn’t in Oklahoma City that April day.

Over the weekend, I wrote a love letter to those whose job it is to pick up the pieces.

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(The following is excerpted from The Slaughter of the Innocents. Los Angeles Times. 20 April 1995)

The car bomb that destroyed a nine-story federal office building here Wednesday exploded directly under a day-care center on the structure’s second floor and badly damaged another baby-sitting facility in a nearby YMCA. Of the approximately 40 children thought to have been in the building when the bomb went off, at least 12 are dead and about 26 were listed as missing late Wednesday night. The dead ranged in age from 1 to 7 years old. Some of them were burned beyond recognition. One of the children known to have survived was in surgery Wednesday evening and the other was in an intensive-care facility.

On the sidewalk outside the devastated Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at midday, a young mother, her head swathed in bandages, sat weeping. Her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 4, were among the missing. Another woman who survived the blast stood outside the building, screaming for her child. Rescue workers led her away just before they brought out a dead boy they believed was her son.

Inside, rescuers tried to cover the bodies of the dead children with blankets, but the wind, pushing through the vacant spaces where walls and windows once had been, kept blowing them off.

In the parking garage beneath the damaged building, a temporary morgue had been set up, and emergency medical technicians waited there for more bodies to be pulled from the rubble. Earlier, some of them had searched for victims in the devastated day-care center at the building’s west end.

Asked what it was like, nurse Rena Keesling, 28, pointed to a pile of bricks on the street and said, “like that.”

Keesling said she “saw decapitated bodies. Children were just all over. Their school papers and toys were strewn on the floor. One doctor who was with us picked up a group picture of the children and burst into tears. She couldn’t take it.”

Another nurse, Christine Johns, said: “Babies were wrapped around poles. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Her colleague, Bobby Johnson, 42 years old and the father of a 20-day-old son, had seen it before, but Wednesday’s carnage still brought him to tears. “I was in Vietnam,” he said, “and I never thought I would see something like that again. But this is worse. It was awful. There was lots of blood and debris. Children’s bodies were mangled and decapitated.”

I was shocked to think that someone could do that to small children,” he said.

Johnson’s blue surgical outfit was stained with blood, and so were the purple vestments and latex gloves of Father George Miley, a Catholic priest hurrying down a nearby street. He had been in a neighboring church administering the last rites to victims of the blast, and was on his way from there to another temporary morgue.

“I came to minister to the dead and dying,” he said. “They were all children–six babies.”

The Slaughter of the Innocents. Los Angeles Times 20 April 1995


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