A Common Bond

Chair sculptures at the Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma City, 4-10-00; and Cathy Miller, whose father died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, near the Brooklyn Bridge, 4-17-02, in NYC, the day before traveling to Oklahoma City to be with victims of that bombing. AP / CBS

Two days after a jetliner crashed into her father's 100th-floor World Trade Center office, Cathy Miller wanted to talk to someone who could understand her pain.

She found a Web site for Oklahoma City bombing victims and e-mailed: "Are any of you coming to New York because God knows you know how we feel?" She soon was talking to Ken Thompson, whose mother died in the 1995 bombing of the federal building.

It was an instant connection.

The two, who first met in September in New York, were to meet again on Thursday in Oklahoma City when about 20 people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 attend ceremonies marking the seventh anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building.

"We've been helped a lot by the people of Oklahoma City," Miller said. "Now we want to come support them and help them remember their loved ones. You're bonded by the tragedy. It's such a horrible club to belong to, but you have to go on and you have to memorialize your loved ones."

Miller, who lives in Morristown, N.J., and is an account manager for an insurance company in New York City, said she felt isolated after the attacks as she and her family waited at her mother's New Jersey home for news. She thought someone who lived through the Oklahoma City bombing could comfort her.

"There was someone that identified with the horror," she said. "You're caught up in this misery. You're sleeping with your clothes and you never know when you're going to get the call."

Miller kept hoping a hospital would call and say her father was there, even though she knew his office was at the impact point of the first plane to hit the trade center. The call never came. The remains of her father, Robert Kennedy, 55, have yet to be found.

The body of Thompson's mother, Virginia Thompson, was one of the last pulled from the rubble of the Murrah building, 42 days after the explosion. She was working in the federal credit union when Timothy McVeigh detonated a fertilizer bomb on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people.

"Even though I knew the first time I saw the building that my mom was dead, you hold out hope," Thompson said. "As time goes by, the hope fades. Then it's about getting your loved one back."

Thompson and Miller talk almost daily now. In the beginning, she mostly asked how she would ever get over the pain. Now they talk about how family members grieve differently.

"I just try to be an emotional shoulder to lean on," he said.

The two, who lost their parents at nearly the same age - Miller is 30 and Thompson was 29 - met for the first time when the Red Cross sent Thompson and several other Oklahomans to New York to counsel relatives of the Sept. 11 dead. They spent more than an hour talking at a family assistance center.

In Oklahoma City, Miller plans to have dinner at sunset with Thompson's wife and year-old daughter, Faith, at a lakeside restaurant.

They will attend a preview Thursday night of a new museum exhibit at the Oklahoma City National Memorial called a "Shared Experience," which focuses on the similarities between the bombing and the Sept. 11 attacks.

And on Friday, the anniversary of the blast, Miller will place a gift on a bronze chair etched with Virginia Thompson's name, and she will attach a photograph of her father to a chain-link fence that has collected mementos since April 1995.

The trip was organized by Anthony Gardner, who lost his older brother in the attack on the twin towers. The Junior League of New York donated $10,000, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani helped secure 12 donated tickets from Continental Airlines.

Gardner, who founded WTC United Family Group, said he is eager to see the memorial and the people he bonded with last fall.

"They are a tremendous resource for us, a tremendous support," Gardner said. "They can tell us you do learn to love life again, and for many of us, that just doesn't seem very realistic at this point."


By Jennifer Brown
  • Francie Grace

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