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A flashback to Oklahoma City bombing

Story highlights

  • Marcy Heinz: Boston Marathon bombing brought back memories of an April day in 1995
  • Heinz: The Oklahoma City bombing left many residents in shock and grief
  • She says Oklahomans feel sympathy for Bostonians and for those who were killed
  • Heinz: Despite the bombings, we are not victims; we are survivors, and we have thrived

When the two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, I was reminded right away of another April day torn apart by violence.

April 19, 1995, began as a calm, clear day in my hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I was a young college student at the time, aspiring to be a journalist.

I was driving to work when I heard the news. Just then six Oklahoma State Toopers cars screamed past me, racing towards downtown. I went numb. This was my home. Things like this didn't happen here.

In the days after the bombing, I contacted my family and friends to make sure they were safe. I also sought out survivors like Jennifer Robinson, who was living in the Regency Tower, which was a few short blocks away from the target of the bombing, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. She was just getting up for the day when the blast rocked the entire area, shattering windows and spreading debris.

Marcy Heinz

"It scared me to death. I have no idea if everyone got out of my apartment building," she told me. The blast left her homeless and without a car. I spoke with Robinson again a day after the attack in Boston, and she said the marathon bombing brought back memories of the Oklahoma bombing. Other fellow Oklahomans that I knew felt the same way, including journalist Clytie Bunyan, who was in the post office across the street from the Murrah building when the bomb detonated.

"It's safe to say that [the] explosions in Boston don't sit well with people here," Bunyan said. "People here have moved on with their lives, but naturally we remember our pain when things like this happen. And April is still a difficult month for some."

    We felt a deep sense of loss and grief and came together in solidarity and support. People stepped forward and offered to help.

    Like Maj. Chris Fields of the Oklahoma City Fire Department, who had been on the scene for just 20 minutes when police officer John Avery found 1-year-old Baylee Almon in the rubble and handed her to Fields.

    Almon was one of the 19 children who were lost that day and the images of her little body carefully cradled in Fields' arms became an enduring symbol for many. Eighteen years later, Fields watched some of the coverage from Boston at his fire station in Oklahoma City and says the images struck a familiar cord.

    "9/11 was a different scale, but this being right in a downtown area and you know, this hit a lot closer to home than 9/11 did," Fields said. When he saw interviews with the first responders in Boston, he noticed that they answered questions the way he did that day.

    "The images they saw were what I saw," he said.

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    Oklahomans have never been the kind to dwell on the past, but we won't forget the 168 people who died in the blast on April 19 and those who bravely survived. That day does not define us, even if it has become a part of our story. Through the years, we have moved on. We are not victims. We are survivors, and we have thrived.

    Fields reflects that healing in the wake of a terror attack like Oklahoma City or Boston takes a lot of time.

    "It took a while," he said. "I've done some counseling. It will never be just another day, but now I don't dread it like I used to. It's not something you forget, and it's going to be with them for a long time. If you think you might need help, talk to somebody about that. That was something I did wrong. My heart goes out to them."

    He adds that the definition of "normal" changed for Oklahomans after the attack. Maybe Bostonians would feel the same way.

    But despite what we've gone through, we are resilient, strong, and we won't let the actions of the perpetrators get to us.

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