OKLAHOMA CITY — Ten years ago today I was sitting at my desk in the NBC News Dallas bureau when an URGENT news wire flashed on my computer screen. It read, "There has been a massive explosion in downtown Oklahoma City."
Before I dashed off to the airport I sent a message to Jeff Gralnick, then the executive producer of NBC Nightly News. It read, "This is the anniversary of the fire in Waco."
The two events are forever intertwined. I covered both for NBC News.
I remember standing in front of the blaze that killed more than 80 men, women and children in Waco like it was yesterday. I remember looking at the mangled face of the front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City two years later and wondering: could the two events be related?
Those first hours after the bombing were frantic and scary. At first the authorities closed the Oklahoma City airport. Then there was a rumor of another bomb.
Nobody knew for certain who was responsible for the bombing or why it happened. Panic ensued. Rescue efforts were hampered and within hours we were told it was likely there were no more victims to be rescued. The recovery effort began.
I remember about three days later returning to my hotel in downtown Oklahoma City and spotting a sign in the lobby inviting journalists to a reception on one of the upper floors.
I checked it out and found a room with coffee, soft drinks, snacks and a man who said he was with a Christian group that decided that everyone else was getting psychological and moral support — victims, rescue personnel, families — and why not some for the journalists, the men and women covering this awful story. I'll never forget that act of kindness.
Timothy McVeigh was inadvertently arrested by Charlie Hanger, an Oklahoma highway patrolman, who spotted the drifter missing a license plate on his rusty old Mercury Marquis within 90 minutes of the attack.
Hanger, an unsung hero if there ever was one, spotted a bulge under McVeigh's jacket and found he was carrying a gun. McVeigh was arrested for driving without license plates and detained on firearms charges.
Two days later, just as McVeigh was about to be released, he was identified as a suspect and charged with the bombing.
We all scrambled to the Noble County Courthouse 70 miles north of Oklahoma City. When I arrived at the courthouse square it was packed with people who were there to see the man suspected of killing 168 people and injuring hundreds more on April 19th.
We waited for hours for McVeigh to be brought out of the jailhouse because the authorities feared somebody would try to kill him.
FBI snipers were positioned on rooftops and McVeigh was finally brought out a few minutes before 6 o'clock in an orange jail jump suit, the second to the last time he was ever seen in public.
In the days and weeks after that we learned he had been at Waco during the government standoff with the Branch Davidians and that it was that disaster that motivated the bombing plot. This story had come full-circle.
Over the years, I've returned for Oklahoma City and I've gotten to know many of the victims and their families.
It is painful to see the suffering in their faces and many of them continue to suffer to this day. They will always need our prayers.
Jim Cummins is the NBC News Dallas Bureau Chief and lead Correspondent.