In Oklahoma City, lost innocence Long-awaited relief, vindication mix with

  sense of disbelief

  Patrick O'Driscoll


  USA Today


  Page 03A

  (Copyright 1997)


  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

  children died.


  ``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

  terrorist acts.


  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