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City struggles with shock of deadly bombing

By Steve Lackmeyer and David Zizzo

April 20, 1995

A thunderous bomb blast rocked Oklahoma City on Wednesday, ripping a huge slice from a federal building and killing at least 150 to 200 people, many of them children.

The bombing, felt throughout central sections of Oklahoma, shattered the downtown district and left a grieving state wondering why.

The explosion, shortly after 9 a.m., demolished about a third of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, causing all nine stories, including a day-care center on the second floor, to "pancake" into a pile of rubble.

Workers in their offices tumbled out of the nine-story building to the street below. One man fell into the 30-foot-wide bomb crater.

Victims fled the building, their clothes ripped off by the blast. Others wandered in a daze. Some victims with gashes on their arms and legs, or with head injuries, blood streaming down their faces, sat on curbs, quiet and shocked.

Shortly after 10 p.m., rescuers pulled a 15-year-old girl from the rubble of the building parking lot, the first survivor found in hours.

The girl was listed in critical condition late Wednesday.

Rescuers had talked with the moaning girl continuously, trying to keep her alert as she lay amid broken concrete and bodies.

Late Wednesday, police said the death toll is estimated at between 150 and 200, based on bodies seen inside the building and trapped inside the rubble.

Also, fire spokesman Jon Hansen said firefighters pulled two bodies from the rubble about 9 p.m.

The official total is 31, including 12 children, based on the bodies that authorities have pulled out.

Cries of adults and children could be heard coming from inside the remains of the structure.

"This is the blackest day in the history of Oklahoma," Oklahoma County District Attorney Bob Macy said.

"This is America. Things like this just don't happen here," said Mechelle Rush, a worker in an office facing the federal building.

Officials say 590 workers and possibly up to 400 more people do business in the building on a normal day. Authorities estimated more than 300 people were missing after the blast. The bomb was believed to have been detonated in a vehicle parked in the street north of the tower.

Emergency personnel from communities across the state converged on the chaotic scene. Some dug through the rubble searching for survivors. Medical personnel had to amputate one person's arm to free the victim.

Emergency workers set up impromptu triage on the streets, while hospitals frantically dealt with a steady flow of injured. A nearby warehouse served as a morgue.

The blast also destroyed cars, crushed brick walls, tossed a tractor-trailer truck through a fence and shattered windows for blocks, leaving the area looking like a war zone.

Officials confirmed at least 17 children among the scores of dead, who were found throughout the building and outside. One body was found in an alley across the street. Almost 500 people were treated at hospitals. Of those, 388 were released, 58 were admitted, three died and the condition was not known on 43 others.

Rescuers pulled trapped people from the building all day.

The Murrah building includes offices of the Social Security Administration; Secret Service; Drug Enforcement Administration; Agriculture Department; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; military recruiters and a federal credit union.

Horror and heroism blended in the tragedy.

Gary Jenkins, who was helping an emergency worker at the scene, said he saw many crumpled young children.

"I don't know if any of them are alive," he said. "I don't ever in my life want to see anything like this again. " He said he was unable to count the victims.

"Everything is moving so fast in there," he said. "It's a mad house. You just keep moving on. "

Dr. Brian Espe, an Agriculture Department worker in the Murrah building, said he thought the "huge noise" that crushed much of the structure within 10 feet of where he was standing was caused by an earthquake.

"It was like somebody came in and sheared off half the building," he said. "My surviving was nothing short of a miracle. "

Edmond police officer Adrian Neal said he has seen hurricanes and devastation before, "but nothing like this. " He said he looked for anything that indicated someone was alive.

"I saw a pair of lady's shoes," he said. "I searched for a person there for 30 minutes. "

Another searcher picked up the head of a doll found near the mutilated body of a child, hoping the toy might later help identify the small victim, a medical worker said.

Officials evacuated downtown buildings as a precaution and blocked streets and highway exits to control traffic. National Guard troops patrolled the area, and proprietors boarded up shops to discourage looters.

State office buildings in Oklahoma City were closed. Federal buildings and military facilities across the country increased security.

Officials estimated the device had 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of explosives. FBI officials asked for help in locating three suspects. One was 25 to 30 years old of Middle Eastern descent, and one was 35 to 38, officials said. Officials had no description of the third suspect, believed to be the driver of the escape vehicle, a brown pickup with tinted windows last seen on North Walker.

Also, late Wednesday, federal investigators were examining records at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, apparently seeking information about a National Car Rental vehicle suspected to be involved in the explosion.

Gail Spratt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota-based rental car company, told The Dallas Morning News that the FBI suspected that a car involved in the attack was rented at the company's DFW office.

Investigators were "trying to determine the connection, if any," Spratt. "Something has led them to National Car Rental. "

Airport spokeswoman Angel Biasatti said DFW airport officials had no comment on any possible connection to the bombing.

The blast occurred on the second anniversary of a blaze that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, ending a long standoff and killing about 80 people. But investigators did not tie Wednesday's blast to the Waco incident.

Staff writers Ed Godfrey, Judy Kuhlman, Nolan Clay, Randy Ellis and Penny Owen contributed to this report.

2005 The Oklahoman, NEWS 9 and Oklahoma City National Memorial.
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