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Survivors remember the Oklahoma City bombing, 20 years ago today

9.02 am, Wednesday 19 April, 1995.

Updated 6pm

BOMBING ANNIVERSARY Steven Korell holds his two year old daughter, Lora, as they sit by his aunt's memorial chair at the Field of Empty Chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial Source: AP/Press Association Images

ON THE MORNING of Wednesday, 19 April 1995, US Army veteran Timothy McVeigh parked a rented truck in front of the Alfred P Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.

At exactly 9.02 am, the fertilizer and fuel explosives packing the vehicle were detonated, destroying the building, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring 850.

It remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history.

One of the truck’s axels led investigators to vehicle-rental and motel records, allowing them to track down McVeigh, a known anti-government extremist who had timed the attack on the two-year anniversary of the Waco siege.

Oklahoma City Bombing 15th Aniversary Timothy McVeigh, being escorted to court in 1996. Source: AP/Press Association Images

He was already in prison, having been arrested an hour after the bombing, when a state trooper pulled him over for driving without a license plate.

He was executed in 2001, and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols is currently serving life without parole. A third man, Michael Fortier, turned federal witness, was released in 2006, and is living in the witness protection programme.

Now, two decades on, survivors of the bombing and victims’ loved ones, have been remembering that day.

‘My feet were sticking out…and my dad recognised my shoes’

Source: okcnm/YouTube

Perhaps the most heinous aspect of the Oklahoma City bombing was the murder of 19 children, the youngest just four months old.

That morning, there were 21 kids at the America’s Children Day Centre, which was on the second floor at the front of the building – feet from where the bomb went off, and visible from the outside.

Just six survived, and recently reunited to tell their stories in a moving video for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, located on the site of the Murrah building.

Joseph Webber, now a third-year college student, was buried under rubble at the creche.

“My feet were sticking out of the pile, and my dad recognised my shoes,” he says.

Chris Nguyen was five at the time, the oldest of the children who survived.

On Friday, he had a rare and emotional conversation with his mother about the bombing, which was broadcast by National Public Radio.

“A lot of times people ask me, ‘What do you remember?’ But I don’t remember anything.”

His mother Phuong, however, seems to recall every detail of that morning.

You were the third child brought out. You were bleeding from your head and your face. You were screaming and crying like crazy.That day left a scar in our life.

Daycare Survivors 041215 (1) Oklahoma City bombing survivors (L-R) Joseph Webber, Nekia McCloud, Chris Nguyen, PJ Allen, and Brandon Denny. Source: Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum

PJ Allen, now 21 and a college student, was severely burned by the bomb blast, and suffered lasting damage to his lungs.

“I had a tracheostomy until I was 13…I have no recollection of that day, but I’m reminded every day about it because of my breathing problems,” he told the New York Daily News during the week.

His father Willie Watson told NPR how he still blames himself for not keeping his one-year-old son at home that morning:

Sometimes I’ll be sleeping and I’ll just be in a cold sweat, and I’ll wake up because of the nightmares I have.

The destruction of the creche, in which all three teachers were also killed, has struck a nerve with the American public for the last 20 years.

It was particularly horrifying to many to consider the strong probability that as McVeigh approached the federal building, he must have recognised the daycare centre directly above where he parked.

Just two weeks after the attack, the grandmother of one of the six survivors – whose life was still in the balance at the time – told the New York Times:

I don’t want to believe that. I want to go to bed every night and say, ‘They didn’t know.’ I don’t want to believe it, because I don’t know if I could live, knowing that they did mean to do it.

‘Do what you have to do, I can always get another leg’

Source: PLATINUM/YouTube

One of the most extraordinary Oklahoma survival stories belongs to Daina Bradley.

She was 20 years of age in 1995, and had come to the Murrah building to fill out paperwork at the Social Security office- the type of mundane bureaucracy that would have been happening throughout the building that morning.

During McVeigh’s trial in 1997, Bradley told the court how she had brought along her mother Cheryl, sister Felicia, three-year-old daughter Peachlynn, and three-month-old son Gabreon.

Her mother was holding her place in the queue, and her sister was helping her go over some forms, when she saw a flash of light.

The next thing she remembers is feeling trapped.

Dr Andy Sullivan, then head of orthopaedics at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, was sent to treat survivors.

Four days after the attack, he told the LA Times about his encounter with Bradley, whose right leg was crushed by a concrete beam, and trapped under a steel bar.

5211.15.003 Source: FBI

He could either leave her there to die, or amputate, but didn’t think he could even do that without her bleeding to death.

For the first time in many years, Bradley spoke publicly this week to local TV station KFOR.

I told them, ‘Do what you have to do. I can always get another leg.’

Sullivan tied a nylon rope tightly above her knee, and administered anaesthetic, but at that moment an alert went off about a possible second bomb.

The medical team had no choice but to leave. When they returned some time later, Bradley was still alive, and Sullivan began cutting off her leg, feeling around in the dark.

His surgical scalpels weren’t up to the task, though, so he took out a pocket knife, and finished the amputation.

Rescuers freed her from the crevice she was trapped in, and she survived.

bradley The implements used by Dr Andy Sullivan to amputate Daina Bradley's leg. Source: KFOR

Tragically, however, Bradley’s mother and children were killed in the blast, and her sister was left with serious injuries.

Speaking this week, on a rare return home for today’s 20th anniversary commemoration events, she said:

I miss them. I miss them all the time, but I don’t think they’d want me to live my life being sad all the time.

Bill Clinton, who was president at the time of the attack, is due to make a speech at the memorial, joining local leaders, survivors and loved ones.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum has compiled these photos and tributes to each of the 168 victims.

Read: 9/11 victim identified nearly 14 years on from attack>

Column: I’ll never forget the moment I heard the news of the explosions in my hometown>

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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