Choosing to Remember
I was working the morning shift at the front desk of a hotel in Tucson, Arizona on the morning of April 19, 1995.
For reasons I did not understand then and do not understand now, an employee of the Federal government had been living in that hotel for several months. She had her two sons with her, who were attending the local public school.
The hotel had an atrium in which we served a continental breakfast. For some reason - sickness, conferences, perhaps - one of the federal employee's sons did not go to school that morning, and he was sitting in the atrium eating doughnuts. The television in the atrium was playing the Today Show, I think, but it might have been Good Morning America.
The lobby (where I was working) was empty that morning. The boy came running into the lobby from the atrium, worry and concern plastered across his face. "My mom!" he said to me. "My mom's work just got blowed up!" He grabbed my hand and pulled me into the atrium, where the news was showing footage from Oklahoma City. The newscasters kept talking about "the federal building" and the boy looked at the TV and started crying. "My mom works in the federal building...my mom works in the federal building."
I watched the news in horror for several seconds, and then I asked the boy if his mom was in Tucson today, or if she had gone to Oklahoma for something.
"No, she's here. She's here in Tucson," he said.
I told him that the explosion was in Oklahoma, very far away from Arizona. Together we called the telephone number he had for his mother's office, and her staff tracked her down so she could talk to her frightened son.
I don't remember what happened after that. I know that I wanted to talk to my friend Ann, who was in graduate school with me, and whose parents lived in OKC. I know that I didn't get a hold of her until after I got home from work that afternoon, and when I talked to her, she said that her parents had heard the explosion from miles away.
I remember being glued to the television for days afterwards. I remember the initial belief that the bombing had been the work of Islamic Extremists giving way to news of the unthinkable - that the bombing had been the work of an American, a veteran.
In retrospect, what strikes me most is the emphasis that was placed on finding a suspect called John Doe #2. The sketch of John Doe #2 was EVERYWHERE for DAYS. And then, suddenly, we were told he didn't exist.
I accepted, at the time, that if the federal government was telling us that John Doe #2 didn't exist, he must not exist.
I was naive enough, then, to believe the media and the government would never lie to us.
Today, I am sad for the families of the 168 people whose lives were cut short that morning by the actions of a mad man and others unknown.
I do not believe that Timothy McVeigh acted alone that day, with only the prior assistance of Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier. (McVeigh died insisting that he blew up the Murrah building alone. But we know that McVeigh was a monster, don't we? Why should we take him at his word?)
I think that there are others out there whose acts were complicit in this tragedy. I think it is a gross injustice that no one is looking for those others who were responsible.