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Sunday, April 19, 2015


NOTE: It's been twenty years. Hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that fateful day, when a homegrown terrorist snuffed out 168 lives, 19 of them children in the daycare at the Murrah Building. Today there will be a ceremony as there is, every year, at the bomb site. But I think it's especially poignant this year for this milestone. Twenty years is a lifetime--time for a baby to grow to adulthood and strike out on their own; for grandchildren to be born and grow into the people they will become...but for 168 people, that future ended in a single moment.

Where were you when you heard that Elvis had died? Or John Lennon? Where were you when you found out JFK had been assassinated? Where were you nineteen years ago on April 19, 1995?

Many people won’t remember the date, but they remember what happened. This Saturday, April 19, is the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here in Oklahoma City. Up to that date, it was the largest number of deaths on U.S. soil caused by a terrorist act. That record was broken, of course, on September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had gone to work. My job at McDonald’s Corporate Offices was located several miles from the downtown area. I was the “complaint person”—the one everyone called to report everything from an incorrect order to a pot hole in the drive-through on Forty-Ninth Street. We had just received a call from a man who was attempting to sue McDonald’s for a scratch on his car’s paint job. I’d transferred him to my supervisor, irritated at his persistence.

At 9:03, the building shook, and plaster fell from the ceiling onto my desk, and into my hair. We were on the seventh floor of the building, but were not panicked about the safety of the structure.

Someone hooked up the small TV that was used for videos in conferences and we all made our way into the conference room. The picture was grainy since the TV wasn’t on cable, but we were able to see the first reports as they began to come in.

In the beginning, the explosion was thought to be caused by natural gas. Within the hour, though, those initial reports were negated and the public was told the truth. Unbelievably, it had been some kind of bomb.

Another chilling fact was quickly disclosed. Since no one was sure of why the federal building had been targeted, federal and state employees were being sent home from offices in other locations.

My husband worked for the Federal Aviation Administration at the time. Normally, he would have been released. But since he was a former Navy man with extensive military training, he and some of the others with a military background were asked to stay and help do a bomb sweep of the FAA training facility.

The entire facility was on lockdown. This meant I couldn’t get on base to pick up our son, Casey, who attended the daycare there.

Within the next hour, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law, Esta, in West Virginia. You had to know Esta to know, when she put her mind to something, she got it done. In a world gone crazy, with telephone circuits busy and no hope of getting through, she somehow managed without even having my direct number. All she knew was that I worked at the corporate office for McDonald’s.

When I answered the phone on my desk, at the other end of the line was an operator that Esta had commandeered, explained what had happened, and talked into placing the call through as a person-to-person emergency call. I assured the operator that I was Cheryl Pierson and thanked her for placing the call. She sounded worried. “How bad is it?” she asked. “We aren’t sure,” I told her. There was silence for a moment before she turned the call over to my mother-in-law. “Take care, hon,” she said. “We’re all praying for you.” Her voice was gravelly with emotion. That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I didn’t tell my mother-in-law that Gary was still at the FAA, unable to leave. Or that Casey was there, and I couldn’t get on base to get him. I promised to call her when we knew more. I had to get Jessica from school.

You see, the fear was not knowing. Not knowing, at that point, who had done it, or why? How many people were involved? Were they going to target other federal or state agencies…or schools?

I drove to my daughter’s elementary school. The parking lot was full, even though it was not quite 11:30. I asked Jessica if she knew what had happened and was shocked to find out they had had the children in the auditorium with the television on for a big part of the morning…until things got too graphic.

“Are Dad and Casey home yet?”

I put on my best smile. “No, not yet. They’ll be along shortly.”

An hour or so later, prayers were answered and Gary pulled into the driveway with Casey. But our world was changed forever that day.

As the news coverage continued, it was a nightmare we dealt with every day for at least a year: The deaths, the images of loss that came from that day, and the anger.

But there was good that came from it, too. Oklahomans showed the pioneer spirit of those who came before us and rose to the occasion. Because of that tragedy in 1995, we learned the hard way that a terrorist can be home-grown, but we kept strong and showed the world where the bar of the “Oklahoma Standard” was set. When 9/11 happened, many of our first responders and medical trauma professionals rushed immediately to New York City. We were the only other state that had had anything remotely similar happen, and the experience to lend a hand.

Though, thankfully, no one in our family was hurt or killed in that tragedy of April 19, 1995, I don’t know anyone who didn’t know someone—however remotely—that it touched.

I had to quit my job. Casey began having nightmares, and believed his daycare was going to “blow up.” When he built a Lego “daycare” with part of the wall gone and the flag lying in a heap of Lego bricks, I knew I needed to be home with him. Eventually, his fears passed.

But the sadness will always remain for those who lost their lives in that senseless act of terrorism; for those since who have taken their own lives due to “survivor guilt;” for the end of the innocence we might have still harbored—the feeling that we were safe in the heartland of America.

As the years pass, we tend to forget. But as painful as those memories are, we cannot afford to lose the hard-won lessons.


A beautiful memorial museum stands on the site today. There is a chain link fence surrounding part of the grounds where visitors come to leave remembrances and mementos. In nineteen years, I still have not been able to bring myself to visit the museum. I’m glad we have it, and that people come to pay their respects. I don’t need to see it, though. I lived it. And I will never, ever forget.

A SIDE NOTE: My daughter, Jessica, has "the other side" from a child's perspective on her blog, Caution to the Winds. This is a poignant accounting of her memories of what happened that day, when she was only 8 years old, from her now-adult self, remembering. I have to admit, it made me teary. If you are interested and get a chance, please take a look and leave a comment for her.


  1. Cheryl, I resonded to this story when I first read it, and the emotions is creates are still as strong. Thank you for keeping the story and it's affects, plus the resilience of the human spirit alive. Doris

    1. Thank you, Doris. We have to remember and keep it alive for these people who were taken from us so horrifically--just everyday people going about their lives. I still have not gone down to the memorial. I think just recalling those horrid days of the bombing and the aftermath, the capture of the perpetrator (I will not put his name in print so that he can be remembered) and the entire year following that John Doe 2 was searched for, etc. have scalded themselves into me so deeply that I know I would just be a basket case to go to the actual place. I don't know that I ever will be able to do that. Thanks for your comment, Doris!

  2. My thoughts are with you Cheryl...and for all my family, friends, and Oklahoman's whowent through this trauma. Crimes like this are why I support the death pentalty and believe in hell.

  3. My thoughts are with you Cheryl...and for all my family, friends, and Oklahoman's whowent through this trauma. Crimes like this are why I support the death pentalty and believe in hell.

  4. Sharon, I agree. SOOOO AGREE! I don't believe anyone as warped in their thinking as the perpetrator was would stand a chance at rehabilitation. There are demons on this earth walking around in human skin--he was one of them. And after seeing his mother on tv at the time, I can understand why. But a lot of people live through adversity and don't turn out like that. I believe in hell, too, and I believe that's where he is right this minute. When they executed him, he was still remorseless--completely.

  5. Cheryl, I had to wait to finish wiping my eyes before I could make a comment. What a lovely tribute this is to those who were lost, their loved ones left behind, the community close by who mourned and were left devastated and the rest of the us throughout the states who grieved for each and every one of you. I remember that horrific day and prayed for all of you so closely affected and everyone else in the US.
    And then 9/11 hit.
    As you know I live in NYS. I was working for Public Health and was busy at my desk before leaving to go see home care patients. Our educator happened to be on the federal line on her computer. When her scream barreled through our open-walls office we all went running. She pointed to the computer and said a plane had just hit one of the towers. Actually (unfortunately to my horror) we stood there in shock and watched the second plane hit. To make my story short, my daughter in law was to be there that day. It took a few hours to, thank God, find out she had to cancel making that meeting, but she lost five colleagues. Of course we ended up knowing many who lost someone to such a horrible violence. There were many from our area who went to offer help and aid. Shortly after that I took training and became a member of the Medical Reserve Corps, part of Homeland Security. I was one of the first to start administering Smallpox to the first responder teams for, heaven forbid, any future disaster. Though it has been 20 yrs., I still want to say a big thank you to all those from OK and other states too who came to help us in our nightmare. And I hope all of you can feel healed(as well as you ever will). We indeed lose our innocence each and every time something like this happens. My son lives in CT, close to Sandy Hill school. When the madman attacked it 12/14/12 and all those innocent children and others were killed we went through it again. I hope everyone, no matter what religion or belief, will join me in saying another big prayer that these kinds of terrifying tragedies will soon be no more. My heart, thoughts and prayers are with all of you in OK.

    1. Bev, I think that the reason it's so hard to heal from this April 19th bombing even 20 years later, is the fact that it was so unexpected, so unbelievable and such a wake-up call. I remember how they were scouring the airport, buslines, and so on for middle-eastern terrorists, and to have that highway patrolman just coincidentally pull the perpetrator over and the way things played out--just amazed all of us. Especially that it was someone who was a citizen of the US and had done this to his own country.

      And you're right--it seems like we go through it now again and again with different things--we've lost our innocence. Not only with attacks such as this one, and 9/11, but as you mentioned, the crazy lunatic that went into the school and killed all the children--shootings in our schools are more and more common--and whoever would have thought we'd live to see the day that our children wouldn't be safe at school?

      I admire you for taking action and becoming a member of the Medical Reserve Corps! I know you feel really good about that, because it means you are HELPING.

      I changed Jessica's link above--not sure what was going on with that. I do hope you'll go over and read her take on things. I truly never realized how much all that impacted our young children, even more so than what I thought.

      Thanks for coming by and leaving a thoughtful comment, Bev! And thanks for what you do "just in case" for the next time around. You are an angel on the ground!


  6. Dear Cheryl--I believe April 19, 1995 was on a Wednesday. It was raining here in Central Texas, and since my women's golf group played on Wednesday mornings, I did not go. Instead, I drove out to the KOA campground here, where my mother and her husband had set up their camp trailer for a week. When I got there and knocked on the little door to the trailer, Mother opened the door and asked, "Did you hear what happened?" (no hug or hello...just a question.)
    Since I don't watch daytime tv and didn't listen the radio either, I answered, "No. What happened?"
    Her answer--exact words: "They're bombing Oklahoma City!"
    Wow, that scared me--Oklahoma City is being bombed.
    I said, "Surely not."
    She had the little tv on, and of course it was on every station. I sat on the end of the bed with her, and looked up at the small black and white tv hanging from the ceiling in a corner. Soon, I learned what happened. I told her only one building had been bombed--not the whole city as she thought.
    So, we sat there, spellbound by the news reports, and the scenes, and the on-site reporters, and cold chills made me shiver over and over.
    We learned early on it was a deliberate act..but it was some time before we learned anything at all about Timothy McVeigh.
    Do you want to know what he said--at some point--"I failed. My effort was a failure."
    He intended on killing everyone in the building. When he learned the number, all he could say was, "Then, I failed."
    How gruesome.
    Thanks for the firsthand account, Cheryl. You made it even more personal.

    1. I remember when all that stuff happened with David Koresh at Waco, too, Celia, and how my sister and I just sat glued to the tv in amazement! Then for TM to say that this (the bombing) was in retaliation for THAT???? Um...hello. Wake up call. When you live outside the law of the land that's what happens.

      TM showed no remorse at all. I truly believe he felt that way, Celia--that it had been a failure. His 1st attorney, Stephen Jones, will be interviewed this Thursday on our local news--I really would like to see that and will make a note to tune in to that channel that night.

      Something else that really made me sad to learn. I didn't know this at the time, but several parents of the kids that were killed banded together and tried to sue the daycare owner! I was just amazed at that--but it just shows that our country is all about the money anymore. They interviewed her the other night. Still heartbroken over those little ones that were taken. She had a tough time getting through a short interview. Anyhow, the judge threw out the cases of the people suing her, which he should have.

      Thanks for stopping by, Celia, and telling us about your memories of that day, with your mother. It's hard to believe 20 years has passed.


  7. I remember the Oklahoma City bombing vividly. I couldn't believe an American was responsible. It changed forever how I felt about the security of our country. If it could happen in the heartland, it could happen anywhere. It so difficult to imagine what kind of mind a person would have to have to kill innocent people and children. It's a dark place where I wouldn't want to go. Even with oceans on either side of our country, it doesn't prevent our own citizens from becoming barbaric, cold-blooded murderers. I can clearly see how much it effected you and your family, Cheryl. How it must have hurt to see Casey recreate the scene of the bombing with Legos. I don't know if any of us will ever feel as safe and secure as we did before that happened.

    1. Sarah, that was the instant I knew I had to quit my job--when I saw his little Lego creations. And thought Jessica was older and always so mature for her age, I realize now that it was harder and much scarier for her than I realized at the time. We tend to think kids either aren't paying attention to adult things or that they understand more than they do, depending on their ages. I know that my family was just a small microcosm of this community--when you think about it, how much damage was REALLY done to the children? Even the ones (like mine) who didn't have a family member involved. We just never know. And you're so right--no one wants to go down the rabbit hole of TM's mind. It's too dark. And really, who cares? He did the unspeakable. It's how I look at criminals who get off because they had a bad childhood. I don't care about that--I care that they took someone ELSE'S life. And in his case, 168 "someone else's"....ugh.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!
      Hugs, Sarah,

  8. Thank you, Cheryl, for sharing, for giving us a reminder of what so many of us were lucky not to have to experience first hand. Once the shock wore off that day I remember being grateful to live in "Podunk" Medford; who would want to bomb us? I also remember feeling bad my main memory of OK was having mud rained on us. After reading your Jessica's accounting I know you much be proud! You raised a wonderful person and proved to be a wonderful mother!

    1. Aw, Di, thank you so much. I'm so grateful for both my kids and the people they have become.

      You had MUD rained on you here? That's a story I want to hear!

      And the bombing--I kind of thought WE lived in "Podunk" before that happened. We thought the same thing: "Who would want to bomb us?" Quite a time in our history, for sure, and one that spelled the end of our laid back "good ol' days" for sure.

      Thanks so much for coming by and commenting, Di.

  9. I saw the daycare owner's interview the other night and will be tuned in for the attorney's tomorrow. In an odd way I've suffered survivor's guilt these last twenty years. No, I wasn't there. I wasn't even in Oklahoma at that time. That's why I've always felt guilty. Because I wasn't 'home' to be there for my fellow Okies. We'd been in California for almost ten years when it happened and I felt like I had no right to be spared the personal horror you all suffered through. I can't even say with honesty that I'm glad I wasn't there. But I was at home when it happened. My best friend called me outside from across the street of the mobile home park we lived in at the time. I went out and she told me to turn on the news. She knew my tv rarely left sesame street during the day with a little one at home. When I saw the damage and heard of all those senseless deaths, those babies, my heart broke. I was furious that anyone would dare to harm my home. I was sad, cried for days anytime it came up. All my neighbors knew I was from here and one neighbor's brother had an appointment in the Murrah that morning at 9. He'd been feeling poorly (a 60 something veteran) and canceled his appointment in the Veteran's office, I think, at the last minute. It was a day that, though I was so far away, hit me so hard. I've never been happier than when we finally came home in 2007. But in the eight years I've been back, like you, I've never been to the site or museum. I might go one day just to pay my respects in person and visit the reflection pool to reflect, but maybe I won't. Thanks for this personal view of that day. I'm going to check out Jessica's post too.

    1. Calisa, I wish those interviews had been longer. They were both something that piqued my interest but there was not enough time to devote to them on a 30 minute newscast.

      Oddly enough, I think that many of us suffer from "survivor guilt" and I saw a special on that many years later where there were a lot of the first responders from OKC and those paramedics, firefighters and others that came from other states who took their own lives years later because of that same survivor guilt. We feel it, to a lesser extent, because we were not in the middle of everything. But I think there are a lot of us who never have been to the bombing memorial--and may NEVER go.

      So many stories like the one you mention of the neighbor's brother not feeling well and canceling the appt. I had a good friend who had been going through some health issues and called in that day. A brick wall came crashing down in her building across the street, right where her desk was. She was a single mother. She was spared that day. Just these odd twists of fate that allowed people to live that might not have had they gone.

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment--I'm sorry it took me so long to respond--it's been one of those weeks. LOL

      Hugs, my fellow Okie!