In Oklahoma City, lost innocence Long-awaited relief, vindication mix with
sense of disbelief
OKLAHOMA CITY -- It seems ages ago now to flower-shop worker Teresa De
Ark, the day she last traveled the four blocks from work to the grassy shrine
where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building used to stand.
``I knew too many people who died,'' says De Ark, near tears Monday afternoon
as she stood at just about the spot where Timothy McVeigh parked his
rental-truck time bomb April 19, 1995, and blew away 168 people and injured
more than 700 others.
``I still can't believe it. It just can't be,'' she adds, knowing she probably would
have been killed herself had the shop's florist not been late with a floral
arrangement. De Ark was supposed to deliver it at 9 a.m. to Paul Ice, who would
die in the Oklahoma City bombing.
De Ark cried Monday when she heard news of the guilty verdict in McVeigh's
trial for the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. Thousands more
wept with her in this capital city, the still-shaken symbol of heartland innocence
forever lost to misguided and murderous hatred.
As sunset fell, families of the dead and survivors of the bombing gathered around
a gnarled elm tree across 5th Street from the fenced-off remnant of the federal
building site. Out of plastic bottles, each poured a bit of water -- representing
how much grief they had been able to get rid of -- onto the still-living
``Survivors' Tree'' in an impromptu end to an emotional day.
Across the nation, thousands more who had reached out two years ago with
offers of aid reached out once more Monday with reactions of relief and
vindication that justice was done in McVeigh's guilty verdict. In so doing, they
affirmed from coast to coast the same emotions most deeply felt here: relief and
Edye Smith, whose sons Chase, 3, and Colton, 2, were killed in the bombing,
said doctors confirmed Monday that she is pregnant.
``It's ironic to find out today but he (McVeigh) can't have this one, he can't take
this one away from me,'' Smith told KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.
Smith, who recently married Oklahoma television engineer Paul Stowe,
underwent surgery to reverse sterilization.
``Blowing up a kindergarten, (McVeigh) should be strapped in a chair and juiced
until his eyeballs smoke,'' says Chris Kershaw, 41, a composer in Los Angeles
who was referring to the day-care center in the federal building where 19
``These were innocent people. He pulled up in that Ryder truck with no feelings
whatsoever,'' says John Horrigan of Boynton Beach, Fla. ``I think he should get
the death penalty.''
``The crime is so hideous, what purpose would it serve to keep him in a jail cell
for 50 years?'' asks Atlanta chemist Grant Dubois, 51.
``Timothy McVeigh has now replaced O.J. Simpson as the most despised man in
America,'' says Robert Hirschhorn, a Dallas jury consultant.
``Hopefully (McVeigh) will pay for what he did to my mother. He should have
been dead two years ago,'' says William Cregan of Oklahoma City, whose
mother died in the blast.
Such psychological scarring reaches far beyond this city.
``There's a grieving process in a crime of this enormity and it's not only the
survivors but all Americans because they identify with this,'' says Jack Levin,
professor of sociology and criminology at Boston's Northeastern University. ``It
might as well be a member of the family.''
``This should give us all pause to focus on what turned Timothy McVeigh from
the patriotic soldier he was to the point where he ended up,'' says Rabbi Abraham
Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which moniters extremist groups and
Some survivors and family members closed their eyes as the verdict from a
Denver courtroom was read over a closed-circuit link to an Oklahoma City
auditorium. Others clasped their hands in prayer. One woman fell to her knees.
``There were 168 smiles from above,'' says Dan McKinney, whose wife, Linda, a
Secret Service agent, was killed.
Across town, Arlene Blanchard, who survived the explosion, whooped with joy
and sang a tearful ``Amazing Grace'' to her 5-month-old son.
``I feel like a weight has been taken off of me,'' adds Donna McKinney of
Oklahoma City, who lost her aunt, cousin and two friends in the blast.
At the still-shattered area surrounding the site of the blast -- now a chain-link
shrine hung with flowers, photos and teddy bears -- they gathered in smaller,
more subdued clutches to reflect and wonder.
At the Pendleton, N.Y., home where McVeigh grew up, his father, William, and
sister, Jennifer, watched the verdict together.
``Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and
intend to stand by him no matter what happens,'' the family said in a statement.
``We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.''
In Denver and Oklahoma City, survivors and family members -- some paged by
a pre-arranged ``911'' signal to their beepers -- rushed to be in place when the
verdict was read. Still, many called the decision a hollow victory.
``The bottom line is my little girl is not coming back and I have the rest of my
life to deal with that,'' says Buddy Welsh of his daughter, Julie, killed at age 23.
Now, survivors and families must turn to McVeigh's sentencing. Few mince
words about the hoped-for result: Death. Others simply want the trial off the
front pages and the nightly news so healing truly can begin.
``We can concentrate on ourselves now,'' says Phillip Thompson of Oklahoma
City, whose mother died in the blast. ``It's time and we're ready.''
Contributing: Lori Sharn, Jack Kelley, Gary Fields, Jonathan T. Lovitt , Deborah
Sharp and The Associated Press
PHOTO, B/W,Jeff Mitchell, Reuters