Carrying flowers, photos and memories, relatives of bombing victims gathered Monday on a plaza where four years before, a blast destroyed a nine-story office building, claiming 168 lives.
In a low-key ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the April 19, 1995, bombing, a crowd of about 300 looked out over a site under construction as workers took a morning break from their tasks in building a memorial.
A worker in a hard hat stood in a blown-out window of the Journal Record Building and others stood on the red dirt of the memorial grounds. Nearby, workers perched on the roof of a damaged church to watch.
"We do not want another city to experience what we have endured here," said Bob Johnson, chairman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation trust. "Let what you see around you, this construction, be a symbol for renewal."
Evidence of the destructive bomb remained four years later. Tiles were loose on the plaza. Plywood boards covered some areas where small trees and bushes once grew. The boarded-up YMCA building stood to the east of the damaged Journal Record building and renovations continued on a nearby church.
"It's an honor to be back in Oklahoma today to pay respect to the people who died in the bombing," said Don Forsyth, battalion chief of the Orange County (Calif.) Fire Department.
As the names of the 168 dead were read, family and friends dropped flowers over a glass wall onto the site where the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood. More than 400 people were hurt in the blast.
Volunteers from across the country worked for days to search for victims and recover bodies.
Jim Denny and his wife took their two young children, who were severely injured in the explosion, to the site for the memorial.
"I think we need to keep remembering the people who gave their lives in the bombing," he said.
The ceremony is the last such observance before the permanent memorial park is completed next year.
Visitors "can begin to see what it's going to become and how powerful it's going to become," says Kari Ferguson, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. "I think it will forever draw people from around the world who want to learn more about that moment."
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were convicted of the bombing after separate trials. McVeigh was sentenced to the death penalty for his role.
April 19, when the opening shots were fired in Lexington and Concord, Mass., to begin the Revolutionary War, also marks a key anniversary in far right circles. It was the date of the fiery federal raid at Waco, Texas.
In addition, extremist Richard Wayne Snell was executed in Arkansas the day of the bombing for the 1983 murder of a Texarkana pawnbroker whom Snell thought was Jewish.
Members of the Aryan Circle prison gang have called for a gathering Monday in Jasper, Texas The city attracted national attention last June when a black man was dragged to death behind a pickup truck.
John George, co-author of "American Extremists," and "Marxists, Communists, Klansmen and Others On The Fringe," hopes there won't be any violence.
"Nothing happened on the past three 19ths. Why should it be the 19th four years later?" he said. "Of course, you should keep your eyes open all the time, but it's unlikely anything will occur."