That’s the number of people killed on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Downtown Oklahoma City was bombed.
In addition to those 168 lives lost, nearly 700 others were injured. Glass shattered nearby buildings. Cars burned. People became homeless.
It was a blast so powerful that nearby seismometers recorded the event as a 3.0 on the Richter scale. And, it remains the deadliest domestic terrorism incident in our country’s history.
Today, it’s been exactly 22 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.
In 1995, I was a child living in Texas. Around that time, we often traveled to Oklahoma City, where we would watch the dolphins in the OKC Zoo’s Aquaticus and experiment at the Omniplex.
It’s a city I’ve always felt connected to in some way. I remember downtown before the area became Bricktown. I remember water taxi rides on the canal, and trips to Bass Pro Shops. As a teenager, I traveled to Oklahoma City with friends. We’d find a hotel near the Valliance Bank building and get our hair cut at Penn Square Mall. I still vividly remember watching spring weather coverage, praying over the city as tornadoes ravaged it.
I’d always been told it’s a strong town.
Living in Tulsa, I heard stories about the people in Oklahoma City. I was told of the resilience, community, and bond.
But, it wasn’t until I moved here myself that I began to fully understand.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes. We’re a city that builds together. We mourn together. And, we pick up the pieces together.
Twenty-two years ago, within an hour of the bombing, people lined up outside the Oklahoma Blood Institute and waited for hours to donate blood. In fact, some 7,000 donors gave blood in the three days following the event.
Only four years later, on May 3, 1999, Oklahomans came together once more in the wake of a tornado that leveled much of the town and killed nearly 40 people. With the highest wind speeds ever recorded on Earth, that tornado destroyed more than 8,000 homes and became the second-costliest tornado in American history.
Fourteen years later, on May 20, 2013, Oklahoma City united again after another tornado destroyed homes and took the lives of our neighbors in Moore. Two dozen people died, approximately 1,150 homes were destroyed, and hundreds were injured. Two elementary schools were hit by the storm.
There were relief concerts, clean-up events, and fundraisers. Local celebrities gave time and money. Those who had nothing to give still found a way.
I was one of thousands who helped clean up after that storm. I’ll never forget the feeling of digging through the remains of a stranger’s home, desperate to find their cherished family photos. I remember stepping through broken glass and fallen trees, tightly embracing people I’d never before met, crying with them, and promising they would be okay.
It was there that I finally understood why people talked about Oklahoma City this way.
I was surrounded by rubble—tattered flags, muddy baby blankets, and strewn paper. Trees wrapped around the remains of bed posts. Cars sat in pieces around me. Yet, amidst all of that destruction, I watched as hundreds of people sorted through debris, comforted strangers, and handed out water bottles.
Hundreds of people who didn’t know each other. People in wheelchairs; children; sunburnt, sweaty volunteers who felt called to help.
And, that’s who we are.
To know our people and understand our history is to feel the pain of those whose lives were changed at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995.
Twenty-two years have come and gone, but time will never be enough to heal those affected.
Of the Oklahoma City bombing victims, 19 were children. And, most were attending America’s Kids Day Care Center at the time.
As a mother, I cannot allow myself to consider the terror those parents faced. They dropped their innocent babies off in a building they trusted. They said goodbye, not knowing it was the last time they’d kiss their children. The last time they’d see those smiles, those cheeks, those tiny hands.
It brings me to my knees.
Though my hands shake, my blood boils, and my heart breaks, I know getting angry will not bring back those lives. It won’t change this state’s history.
So instead, I take this time to remember.
I encourage you to give your loved ones an extra hug today. Stay up a little past bedtime to tell one more story or steal one more kiss. Call someone just because. Send a letter of thanks. Give people extra grace.
And, be kind to your neighbors.
It’s our Oklahoma standard.