Twenty years ago, at 9:02 on the morning of April 19, a blast at the federal building in Oklahoma City shook the nation to its core and changed forever how government officials and law enforcement prepare for violent threats against the American people.
Domestic terrorism had risen its head in an act like no other in the country’s history, leaving 168 people dead, hundreds injured and the entire nation in stunned disbelief that it had happened in the heartland of our homeland.
Until Oklahoma City, it was widely believed that any mass attack against the U.S. would be by foreign fanatics, with their sights set on major targets in large Eastern or Western cities filled with symbolic landmarks.
The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 made it clear that any place in the country was a potential target, not only of the nation’s sworn enemies, but also of home-grown, deranged and misguided anti-government or hate-filled groups and individuals.
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What the Oklahoma City attackers could not have imagined, just as terrorists across the world who wish us harm, is that their acts of violence and destruction — no matter how massive or disheartening — cannot defeat the resilient spirit of the American people.
Anyone who visits the Oklahoma City National Memorial, on part of the footprint of the destroyed federal building, is likely to leave more inspired and more determined to resist cowering to the threat of terrorism.
Included in the moving memorial are bronze gates marking the last moments of peace (9:01), the time of destruction (9:02) and the moments of recovery (9:03).
There is a field of 168 chairs crafted in bronze, glass and stone representing those who lost their lives, including 19 small chairs symbolizing the children who were killed that day.
Six children who were in the daycare center, where 15 of their classmates died, survived the blast. They still bear the scars, but these “miracle babies,” now in their 20s, all say they will not allow that event to define them.
Perhaps there is no greater testament to the American spirit than that. And it’s a feeling that likely will be shared as people gather at the memorial site Sunday morning to remember that moment that changed the nation.