Different Stories; Same Tragedy

What we being billed as the first-annual bedbug summit was convening in Rosemont, Ill., outside Chicago, on Sept. 21, 2010 CBS

The Early Show went back to Oklahoma City to speak with three people whose lives were changed forever on April 19, 1995: a rescue worker, a survivor and a widow.

Their stories from that day, 10 years ago, are all different - yet they are forever linked by the tragedy wrought by the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building.
April 19,1995, a day few in Okalhoma City - or America - will ever forget.

Police officer John Avera reached the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in minutes. He climbed in through a broken window.

He says, "Everybody that I saw was hurt. Most of them cut, and bad cut. We had broken bones."

But it was the baby found buried in the basement that everyone remembers.

Avera says, "I knew the baby had to be brought out. I knew the baby had to have some help. I couldn't get any breathing signs out of it. So in my opinion, seconds counted. I tried to hold the baby's broken bones so that they wouldn't move."

And that's when pictures were snapped, yielding a photograph that came to symbolize the tragedy of that day.

Avera says, "And I told him, 'I have a critical baby.' And before I got to him, he held his arms out to take the baby off my hands, and see what he could do with it."

Avera went right back into the crumbling building.

He says, "I had no idea the building itself, when I went in the first time, it was blown up."

Priscilla Salyers worked on the fifth floor of the federal building for the United States customs service.

Recalling that day, she says, "I felt like I was having a seizure. I felt like somebody was pushing on my back, and pushing me forward, and I was fighting against it."

She heard the explosion and thought she had been caught in a tornado. And then, an eerie silence.

"I remember thinking, 'I'm OK. I'm OK.' But I was so disoriented, and I couldn't sit up," she says. "I was trapped so tight all I could move was my left arm. And then, I heard a voice. And it was off in the distance, and I heard him say, 'This is a child care center, (and we have a lot of children in here.' And I'm thinking, 'Child care center? They're on the second floor. I'm on the fifth.' I did not know I had fallen all the way down into the pit."

Her calls for help went unanswered. As minutes ticked away, Salyers struggled to stay calm.

She says, "I heard someone say, 'We have a live one.' And this man took my hand. And when he took my hand, peace came over me. Because it's like, I'm OK. They're going to get me out of here."

But it was not to be. Just over an hour after the explosion, a bomb scare forced all rescue workers to evacuate the building, leaving Salyers trapped in the rubble. It would be two more hours before rescuers returned.

She says, "When they flipped me over, I looked up, and I could see the sky. And this isn't making sense. I'm supposed to be at my desk, not seeing the sky. And I looked over to my left, and I could see firemen climbing on these cliffs, and boulders. And the blood started circulating-- coming back. I was in so much pain. It felt like my chest was being crushed."

Salyers spent six days in the hospital. She had broken ribs, a punctured lung, and multiple cuts and bruises.

She notes, "But when you consider that I fell five floors with four floors coming down on top of me, it's a true miracle that I'm here."

Cheryl Scroggins waited all day for a miracle.

"All the lines were busy. Couldn't make any phone calls," Scrogggins says, "I was hopeful. Lanny was a big guy and he was real strong. And we just thought, you know, he was invincible."

Her husband Lanny worked on the eighth floor of the federal building. She and her two boys, 13 and 9, were desperate.

She says, "And we were calling all the hospitals - that sort of thing."

At 7 that night, a ray of hope: Word that her husband might be in the hospital.

Scroggins says, "We went down there and we waited, and we waited, and we waited, and he never came. And finally, a nurse came in that had been at the triage area and she said, 'There's no one left to transport. There's nobody left.' It was a hopeless feeling, really, to go home empty-handed, so to speak - sad, sad for my children."

Her husband's body was found the next day.

She says, "And there was just a peace, you know, just knowing that he had been found. But, it was hard. It was real hard to see the boys just suffer. You know, have to grow up without their father."

In the ten years since, John Avera and his family sought counseling to help them through.

Avera says, "Every day of my life, something happens that changes my life, but I'm still the same person, and I'm still just as happy. And I have a good time most the time. Still have my family."

Salyers suffered from survivor's guilt, but time has helped her learn to love life again, as did working on the memorial.

She says, "It was built with a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of tears. You had families, survivors, rescuers, and we were all having different feelings. It was very painful. But I look at it, and I'm so proud. And I think, look what we did with our anger. I mean - it's beautiful."

Working on the memorial also helped Cheryl Scroggins.

She says, "It's just been one of the best things that's ever happened to come out of such a horrible situation."

All three come to the memorial to remember, to reflect, and to find peace.

Scroggins notes, "When you come here, you just feel close to them, you know? Because this is where they died. But, at the same time, it's helpful because it's so pretty and you see new life every spring like right now."
  • Tatiana Morales

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