Oklahoma City marks 20th anniversary of bombing at memorial

Darla Slipke The Oklahoman

For a series of articles on the original news coverage of the bombing and its aftermath, please click here.

Emotions overwhelmed Helena Garrett as she stood at a lectern near the reflecting pool at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and struggled to say her son’s name.

“My baby,” she said and paused, bowing her head and grasping the lectern when the emotions were too much, before continuing.

Helena Garrett and her daughter, Sharonda Garrett, stand at the chair honoring son and brother Tevin D’Aundrae Garrett, on Sunday after the ceremony. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman 

Helena Garrett and her daughter, Sharonda Garrett, stand at the chair honoring son and brother Tevin D’Aundrae Garrett, on Sunday after the ceremony. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

“Tevin D’Aundrae Garrett.”

Bound by a common loss, sons, daughters, parents, siblings, survivors and others, read the names Sunday of the 168 people who died as a result of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Hundreds of people gathered where the building once stood, and many more watched from home, during a 20th anniversary Remembrance Ceremony to honor those who died in one of the largest acts of terrorism in the nation’s history. As they remembered, they also celebrated the city’s resiliency and response in the face of what was described as unspeakable horror.

After the ceremony, Helena Garrett was able to smile as she recalled her son’s giggle and his hugs. Tevin was just 16 months old when he died in the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor of the Murrah Building.

“I miss everything about him,” Garrett said, standing near a bronze-backed chair bearing Tevin’s name at the national memorial. Usually the chairs are empty, but Sunday they were decorated with flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and notes left by loved ones.

A teddy bear, an angel, photographs and yellow and purple flowers rested in Tevin’s chair.

Former President Bill Clinton, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Gov. Mary Fallin, former Gov. Frank Keating, Mayor Mick Cornett, Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti and others spoke during the ceremony.

The speakers talked about resilience and how Oklahomans responded to the evil act with their own acts of kindness and compassion, a response that has been labeled “the Oklahoma Standard.”

“For 20 years, you have honored the memories of your loved ones,” Clinton said. “You have inspired us with the power of your renewal. You have reminded us that we should all live by the Oklahoma Standard — service, honor, kindness.”

Fallin cited examples of school children across the state who collected pennies because they wanted to help and a construction worker who gave the boots off his feet to rescue workers, saying “someone needs this more than I do.”

Clinton said he prepared for the ceremony by taking his wife, Hillary, to visit their daughter, son-in-law and nearly 7-month-old granddaughter.

“Hillary and I bathed her and fed her and put her to bed, and I looked at her in that crib so I could remember how you felt, those of you who lost your loved ones,” he said.

Clinton was president at the time of the bombing and came to Oklahoma City to offer comfort during a prayer service four days after the bombing. He said Oklahomans freely embraced the choices of a mind and a heart that is blessed.

“I thank you for the privilege of doing what I could to help, of being a witness to your triumphs, to have played a small part in what happened here in the aftermath of that terrible day,” Clinton said. “It is an honor I will treasure as long as I live. All I ask is that you never forget that you made the right choice.”

In the minutes after the attack, the people of Oklahoma City did something that others watching from afar found hard to fathom, FBI Director James Comey said.

“You ran towards darkness,” he said. “You ran towards pain. You ran towards anger and destruction. You ran because these were your friends. You ran because they were your neighbors and your teammates and members of your congregation. You ran because that is what Oklahomans do for their family, and on this day, those people were family.”

Oklahomans understood even in the midst of evil that courage is stronger than fear, love is stronger than hatred, and hope is stronger than grief, Comey said. They were an example to the people of New York and Boston.

“For 20 years, you have sought the good coming out of the darkness,” he said. “It is your way of saying, we remember, we will never forget, but we will move bravely forward.”

An abundance of law enforcement and security personnel were stationed around the memorial grounds Sunday as helicopters swirled overhead and the leaves of the Survivor Tree rustled in a gentle breeze.

People wiped away tears and dabbed their eyes with tissues as Grammy-winning musician Michael W. Smith performed several songs, including “How Great Thou Art.”

A woman with graying hair held a young boy in her arms and rocked back and forth to the music.

Afterward, family members visited chairs that bear the names of their loved ones who died. Some wore pins and T-shirts with names and images of their loved ones.

“My daddy is my guardian angel,” one shirt said. “We will never forget,” another read.

Kathy Dutton and Victor Chavez Jr. attached a display case filled with “The Lion King” mementos to a chair for their nephew Zackary Taylor Chavez.

Zackary was 3 years old when he died from the bombing.

“He was very small for his age, but he was larger than life,” Dutton said.

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