OKLAHOMA CITY — Inside the church that once served as a temporary morgue for the bodies of their loved ones, relatives of the 168 victims killed in the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing joined survivors and rescue workers yesterday for a solemn remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the crime.
"All of us respect you for the way you've borne tragedy over the last decade and for your great devotion to the memory of those who died here," Vice President Dick Cheney told the audience of 1,600. They were gathered inside the First United Methodist Church, which was heavily damaged by the truck bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building across the street.
"Goodness overcame evil that day," Cheney added.
Former President Bill Clinton, who presided over an emotional memorial service in Oklahoma City just four days after the bombing, joined Cheney and reminded listeners that they had overcome tremendous loss to restore their city and replace the Murrah building with a new federal building nearby.
"It seems almost impossible that it's been a decade, doesn't it? The memories are still so clear," Clinton said. "Yet, by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy. The tomorrows come almost against our will. And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities." "Oklahoma City mourned its losses, embraced its survivors, built a magnificent monument to honor and remember, and then built the new federal building to serve its citizens and show that a terrorist act could not prevail," he added.
Clinton did not mention that about a dozen employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who lost 35 colleagues in the Murrah building bombing, remain so traumatized that they cannot bear to enter the new federal building. They work in a satellite office several blocks away, but fear that they may soon be forced by supervisors to report to the new facility.
President Bush said in a statement that Oklahoma City "will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass."
The city's current mayor, Mick Cornett, directly acknowledged the wounds from the bombing that remain unhealed.
"I sense a lot of our citizens today are still trying to deal with" the bombing, Cornett said. Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing ranked as the worst act of terrorism ever to strike on American soil.
The church was hushed at 9:02 a.m. — the precise moment when the bomb exploded 10 years ago — as 168 seconds of silence were observed.
Eight children of victims read the names of those killed, several sobbing as they came to the names of their own parents. The poignant scenes multiplied as the crowd, led by bagpipers playing a funereal march, walked across the street to the Oklahoma City National Memorial, where 168 bronze and glass chairs are spread across the site where the Murrah building formerly stood.
Like mourners visiting gravestones, family members gathered around the chairs, each named for a victim, placing flowers, teddy bears, notes and photos on the seats. Many wore T-shirts or huge buttons bearing the faces of their loved ones.
Doris Jones hovered around the chair representing her daughter, Carrie Ann Lenz, who was pregnant at the time of the explosion. "I come here once a month. I talk to her and touch her chair," Jones said. She said her daughter's husband has since remarried. "I talked to him, and he said he was going to try to come ... but it's hard," she said as her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears.
More than 40 New York rescue workers and family members of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks circulated among the Oklahoma City families, sharing stories of grief. One elderly woman, apparently overcome with emotion, collapsed and had to be revived by paramedics.
There was scarcely a mention during the morning's events of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the two disgruntled former Army buddies who were convicted of the bombing. McVeigh was put to death in June 2001, at an execution witnessed by many of the Oklahoma City victims and family members, while Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on both federal and state charges.
Despite the repeated denials of the FBI and other investigators, some here continue to believe that white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Iraqi agents or even federal officials themselves had a hand in the bombing. The suspicions have been fueled by the mysterious "John Doe No. 2," whose police sketch was circulated by the FBI alongside McVeigh's in the early days after the bombing.
Officials eventually concluded that John Doe No. 2 never existed; his identification had resulted from a witness who mistakenly recalled a second man with McVeigh when he rented the Ryder truck that was used to house the 4,800-pound fertilizer bomb.
Information from The Washington Post is included in this report.