Exactly 15 years ago a brutal attack shocked the world: the Oklahoma City bombing.
The Oklahoma City bombing was the bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck filled with explosives parked in front of the building. McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, had assisted in the bomb preparation. It was the most destructive act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11, 2001 attacks, claiming 168 lives, including 19 children under the age of 6. More than 680 people were injured.
It is estimated that 646 people were inside the building when the bomb exploded.
By the end of the day of the bombing, twenty were confirmed dead, including six children, and over one hundred injured. The toll eventually reached 168 confirmed dead, not including an unmatched leg that could have belonged to a possible, unidentified 169th victim.
Most of the deaths resulted from the collapse of the building, rather than the bomb blast. Those killed included 163 who were in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, one person in the Athenian Building, one woman in a parking lot across the street, a man and woman in the Oklahoma Water Resources building, and a rescue worker struck on the head by debris.
The victims ranged in age from three months to seventy-three, not including the fetuses of three pregnant women. Of the dead, 99 worked for the federal government. Nineteen of the victims were children, fifteen of whom were in the America's Kids Day Care Center.
In January of 2008 I was in Oklahoma City and I did have some spare time, so I went to the memorial site. Until then the Oklahoma City bombing to me had been something I had heard about in the news (even in Germany!) but I had no personal ties to it. Thankfully none of my family members or friends were in the building when the bomb blew half of it away.
But walking through the memorial site really got to me as well. There were these two gates one saying 9:01, the other one 9:03 - the time right before the bombing when the world was still the way it was supposed to be and the time right after the bombing when everything had dramatically changed.
And then there is the field of empty chairs. Right were the Murrah building was standing there are 168 empty chairs right now, one for each of the victims. Each of the chairs has a name on it, 3 of them carry 2 names - it's the ones for the pregnant women. And some of the chairs are smaller than the others - the empty seats of the children who died.
A ranger told me that I could walk through this field. And even though I did not know any of the victims, I was standing in there crying....
After this I went inside the museum where lots of things from the bombing are collected, one can listen to tape recordings and you see shattered telephones, toys and other personal belongings. And although I really wanted to look at everything, I had to leave the museum really quickly - it was just too much for me to take.
I met people who really lost friends and relatives in the bombing while visiting the museum. If all of this got this much to me already, how bad must it be for these people?
Normally in this blog here we talk about the death penalty, about what the death penalty does to the society, to the victim's family members, to the offender's family members, about fairness .... and yes, Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death and yes, to some of the victim's family members this was really important but on the other hand, there were also family members who did not agree to this sentence. But today, I don't even want to talk about this as I believe that this day should be dedicated to the people who died in the attack.
So I would like to ask all of you to dedicate a few minutes of your time to remembering the victims of this awful attack, to sit down, light a candle and think of them and to pray together with me for the families of the victims with the empty chairs they have to face on a daily basis and for their friends.
And please, while praying, don't forget the families of the attackers - they,too, got to live with what happened back then and they, too, got an empty chair of a loved one in their midst.
So please, dedicate this day to all the empty chairs the bombing caused. Thank you!