A Personal Account

decorated fence outside Murrah building
This commentary first appeared on CBSNews.com in April of last year. Savage, a former member of CBSNews.com, was in Oklahoma City on the day of the federal building bombing.
We will never forget — a day forever etched in the memory of so many.

I was a senior in high school. Walking down the hall to my second hour class, I heard what I thought was thunder and felt a rumble beneath my feet. I would find out about an hour later that a bomb had exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, taking the lives of 168 innocent men, women and children -- destroying the lives of countless others.

Although we remained in school that day, we didn’t really have class. Televisions were on in every room. Every face tuned to the unbelievable pictures flashing across the screen. From the school parking lot I could see the thick cloud of black smoke floating from downtown. I didn’t want to think about what lay at its source.

I was able to visit the site before the remains of the building were destroyed. I had never seen or felt anything like it. Approaching the site I could not ignore all of the boarded up and broken windows. Shattered glass still covered some of the sidewalks. Parking meters were bent at 90-degree angles. Bullet-like holes were left where metal and glass had ripped through street signs.

Then I saw the building.

I couldn’t breathe.

Nothing that I saw on television could have ever prepared me or affected me like standing in front of what was left of that building. I couldn’t imagine the force it took to rip open concrete walls several feet thick. I couldn’t imagine the hate necessary to inflict such pain.

The open face of the building stared down onto all of those surrounding it. Tangled wires and twisted metal hung down, partially covering the dark holes that were once offices. One could hear a pin drop as the hundreds of mourners that stood around muffled their tears and tried to suppress thoughts of what lay beneath the piles of rubble in front of the building. The sense of loss and weight of sorrow were palpable as I walked around the chain link fence surrounding the ruins.

Although the hundreds coming to pay their respects were kept at a distance by the chain link fence, we were still close enough to see the devastation. The fence itself had become a makeshift memorial -- wreaths, flowers, T-shirts, teddy bears and letters woven throughout the links.

A man standing next to me turned from the building with tears in his eyes, “My best friend is in that building, they killed my best friend.”

He then turned and walked away.

The remains of the building were destroyed to make way for a permanent memorial. But the fence remained, a simple and touching tribute to all of those lost, always covered with poems, crayon-colored pictures, and letters from victims’ families reminding everyone not to forget How could anyone forget an incident that displayed and evoked emotions from every end of the spectrum, from the hate of those who evoked the terror, to the love and strength of those who picked up the pieces?

Oklahoma City recovered from the hate that ripped apart the lives of so many through its own strength, faith, and sense of community. As the city grows, it will never forget the cornerstone of its foundation, the heart of its people.