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Oklahoma City Bombing: Reporter Remembers The Tragedy

NBC News' Al Henkel was on the scene the day the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City was attacked.
/ Source: NBC News

Reporters are often consumed by the things we cover. Certain stories take over our lives and can shape our careers. So it is with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, on a sunny April day in 1995.

The NBC Dallas team managed to get to the site on that Wednesday morning quickly; the smoke was still coming out of the building when we drove into downtown. That day we wrote the first of over 700 stories I’ve done on the bombing, the investigation, the trials, the healing, and the horror of the attack.

Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and the other conspirators were trying to avenge what they considered to be a U.S. government attack on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, several years before. In their minds that might have happened, but the bombing of the Murrah building shook our country to the core.

McVeigh and Nichols killed people who worked for the federal government, but they also killed innocents: the 15 children from the daycare center on the first floor, people who were just trying to get a replacement Social Security card, several people from surrounding buildings, a nurse who was running to help and was hit by a falling piece of debris. It was truly a terror attack; random and violent, and it changed our country. The next day, we saw concrete barricades around federal buildings, blast-resistant construction, security perimeters. Most of those changes are still in place today.

We got to know survivors and their families, the families of those who died, the responders who went through the unimaginable hell of trying to dig people of out of the remains of the building. I’ve sat in their living rooms and churches, cried with them, prayed with them, screamed with them, drank with them, watched their kids grow up, and saw their pain fade away.

One hundred sixty-eight people died in the attack. I went to dozens of their funerals. First responders went through years of hell. Several committed suicide, others quit their jobs, unable to cope. Their collective pain was, and still is, a hard thing to see.

I lived and worked in Oklahoma years before the bombing, and I can personally attest to this: Oklahomans are tough. They can get through anything.

But on this 20th anniversary, say a prayer for all of those impacted.