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Remembering the OKC bombing

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Oklahoma City Bombing Aniversary

FILE - In this May 5, 1995 file photo, thousands of search and rescue crews attend a memorial service in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. More than 600 people were injured in the April 19, 1995 attack and 168 people were killed. Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001 and Terry Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on federal and state convictions for their convictions in the bombing. (AP Photo/Bill Waugh, FIle)

Twenty years ago, 168 people died in Oklahoma City.

In the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, a homemade truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995.

"It will probably stay with me for the rest of my life," said Susan Sasso, associate vice president for OU Student Affairs.

Sasso, then the director of Student Publications, was in a meeting when news of the bombing broke.

"My husband was a federal employee," Sasso said. "And they said 'There's been a bombing at a federal building in Oklahoma City — where's [my husband] Abe?'"

Fortunately, Sasso's husband was out of town at the time of the bombing, but a woman with whom he worked lost children in the explosion, Sasso said.

"There was almost an assumption that everybody knew somebody [who was affected by the bombing]," Sasso said.

Austin-American Statesman reporter Omar Gallaga, who was an OU sophomore the year of the bombing, was at a meeting of OU's Board of Regents when the news broke, and witnessed OU president David Boren's reaction firsthand.

"Somebody came over and whispered in his ear and they had a discussion," Gallaga said. "And the meeting adjourned after that. I don't think [Boren] made an announcement then."

At the time, nobody knew the nature of the explosion, Gallaga said. People speculated that it was a gas explosion, or perhaps an attack by international terrorists.

"People were so quick to pin this on international terrorists," Sasso said. "And yet, this was somebody from within the U.S. [so] I think that was an important lesson."

Gallaga visited the site the day after the explosion, he said.

"It didn't look real, like something from a movie," Gallaga said. "It was very hard to process."

Sasso said she worried about how her children, 10 and 14 years old at the time of the bombing, processed the news.

"Did I help them process this the way I should have?" Sasso said. "I thought it was too much for them to cope with and understand in that point in their lives."

Now, 20 years later, many undergraduates were not even alive during the bombing, leaving those who experienced it feeling an obligation to keep the memory of the attack alive.

"It's like Pearl Harbor," said Jack Willis, a retired journalism professor. "People don't think about that very much, but really you have to think about it. It's the world we live in now." 

In spite of its tragedy, the bombing taught people to not racially profile events, Gallaga said. A prominent rumor following the attack blamed it on Islamic militants and was eventually proven false, Gallaga said.

The attack ultimately helped people remember how precious life is and the privileges of living in the U.S., Sasso said.

"What we experienced, what was a nightmare to us, happens around the world every single day," Sasso said.

Michael Brestovansky is a public relations senior who currently works as an assistant campus editor for The Daily. Mike has previously worked as a campus reporter at The Daily.

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