Sunday, April 19, 2015


NOTE: It's been twenty years. Hard to believe that twenty years have passed since that fateful day, when a homegrown terrorist snuffed out 168 lives, 19 of them children in the daycare at the Murrah Building. Today there will be a ceremony as there is, every year, at the bomb site. But I think it's especially poignant this year for this milestone. Twenty years is a lifetime--time for a baby to grow to adulthood and strike out on their own; for grandchildren to be born and grow into the people they will become...but for 168 people, that future ended in a single moment.

Where were you when you heard that Elvis had died? Or John Lennon? Where were you when you found out JFK had been assassinated? Where were you nineteen years ago on April 19, 1995?

Many people won’t remember the date, but they remember what happened. This Saturday, April 19, is the anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building here in Oklahoma City. Up to that date, it was the largest number of deaths on U.S. soil caused by a terrorist act. That record was broken, of course, on September 11, 2001, with the destruction of the twin towers in New York City.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, I had gone to work. My job at McDonald’s Corporate Offices was located several miles from the downtown area. I was the “complaint person”—the one everyone called to report everything from an incorrect order to a pot hole in the drive-through on Forty-Ninth Street. We had just received a call from a man who was attempting to sue McDonald’s for a scratch on his car’s paint job. I’d transferred him to my supervisor, irritated at his persistence.

At 9:03, the building shook, and plaster fell from the ceiling onto my desk, and into my hair. We were on the seventh floor of the building, but were not panicked about the safety of the structure.

Someone hooked up the small TV that was used for videos in conferences and we all made our way into the conference room. The picture was grainy since the TV wasn’t on cable, but we were able to see the first reports as they began to come in.

In the beginning, the explosion was thought to be caused by natural gas. Within the hour, though, those initial reports were negated and the public was told the truth. Unbelievably, it had been some kind of bomb.

Another chilling fact was quickly disclosed. Since no one was sure of why the federal building had been targeted, federal and state employees were being sent home from offices in other locations.

My husband worked for the Federal Aviation Administration at the time. Normally, he would have been released. But since he was a former Navy man with extensive military training, he and some of the others with a military background were asked to stay and help do a bomb sweep of the FAA training facility.

The entire facility was on lockdown. This meant I couldn’t get on base to pick up our son, Casey, who attended the daycare there.

Within the next hour, I received a phone call from my mother-in-law, Esta, in West Virginia. You had to know Esta to know, when she put her mind to something, she got it done. In a world gone crazy, with telephone circuits busy and no hope of getting through, she somehow managed without even having my direct number. All she knew was that I worked at the corporate office for McDonald’s.

When I answered the phone on my desk, at the other end of the line was an operator that Esta had commandeered, explained what had happened, and talked into placing the call through as a person-to-person emergency call. I assured the operator that I was Cheryl Pierson and thanked her for placing the call. She sounded worried. “How bad is it?” she asked. “We aren’t sure,” I told her. There was silence for a moment before she turned the call over to my mother-in-law. “Take care, hon,” she said. “We’re all praying for you.” Her voice was gravelly with emotion. That brought tears to my eyes, too.

I didn’t tell my mother-in-law that Gary was still at the FAA, unable to leave. Or that Casey was there, and I couldn’t get on base to get him. I promised to call her when we knew more. I had to get Jessica from school.

You see, the fear was not knowing. Not knowing, at that point, who had done it, or why? How many people were involved? Were they going to target other federal or state agencies…or schools?

I drove to my daughter’s elementary school. The parking lot was full, even though it was not quite 11:30. I asked Jessica if she knew what had happened and was shocked to find out they had had the children in the auditorium with the television on for a big part of the morning…until things got too graphic.

“Are Dad and Casey home yet?”

I put on my best smile. “No, not yet. They’ll be along shortly.”

An hour or so later, prayers were answered and Gary pulled into the driveway with Casey. But our world was changed forever that day.

As the news coverage continued, it was a nightmare we dealt with every day for at least a year: The deaths, the images of loss that came from that day, and the anger.

But there was good that came from it, too. Oklahomans showed the pioneer spirit of those who came before us and rose to the occasion. Because of that tragedy in 1995, we learned the hard way that a terrorist can be home-grown, but we kept strong and showed the world where the bar of the “Oklahoma Standard” was set. When 9/11 happened, many of our first responders and medical trauma professionals rushed immediately to New York City. We were the only other state that had had anything remotely similar happen, and the experience to lend a hand.

Though, thankfully, no one in our family was hurt or killed in that tragedy of April 19, 1995, I don’t know anyone who didn’t know someone—however remotely—that it touched.

I had to quit my job. Casey began having nightmares, and believed his daycare was going to “blow up.” When he built a Lego “daycare” with part of the wall gone and the flag lying in a heap of Lego bricks, I knew I needed to be home with him. Eventually, his fears passed.

But the sadness will always remain for those who lost their lives in that senseless act of terrorism; for those since who have taken their own lives due to “survivor guilt;” for the end of the innocence we might have still harbored—the feeling that we were safe in the heartland of America.

As the years pass, we tend to forget. But as painful as those memories are, we cannot afford to lose the hard-won lessons.


A beautiful memorial museum stands on the site today. There is a chain link fence surrounding part of the grounds where visitors come to leave remembrances and mementos. In nineteen years, I still have not been able to bring myself to visit the museum. I’m glad we have it, and that people come to pay their respects. I don’t need to see it, though. I lived it. And I will never, ever forget.

A SIDE NOTE: My daughter, Jessica, has "the other side" from a child's perspective on her blog, Caution to the Winds. This is a poignant accounting of her memories of what happened that day, when she was only 8 years old, from her now-adult self, remembering. I have to admit, it made me teary. If you are interested and get a chance, please take a look and leave a comment for her.


  1. A poignant reminder, Cheryl, of this tragedy. I was working in Utah the morning this happened, and my co-workers kept each other apprised of the situation as they heard bits and pieces come over the radio and TV waves. Your story -- especially when you mention the memorial museum and your hesitance to visit because you lived through this tragedy -- reminded me of the time when our country was first building a memorial to the Vietnam Veterans in Washington, DC in the late 80s. A mini Wall was traveling across the United States as a preview for the citizens and it had stopped at my home city in Missouri. I thought it strange, though, that the entourage had stopped beside the frontage road to entice passersby, but I pulled over. However, I could not get out of my car. My eyes teared up and I had realized this was not what I expected. Fast forward a few years when I was actually in Washington, DC, to see the fully-constructed Wall. There is a thick book beside the memorial that lists all of the fallen soldiers and where their names are listed on the Wall. Quickly I opened the book, shut my eyes and pointed to a name. Any name would do. When I opened my eyes and read the name, I could not believe I had absently pointed to the name of a fellow high school classmate who had sat in front of me in math class...I so agree that when tragedies occur, we are all remotely connected, somehow, some way.

    1. That gives me chills, Alice. I believe everything is connected, too. You know, I'm not sure...I think I could maybe visit the Vietnam wall now. My husband is a Vietnam veteran, and I don't think he could do it. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. These "anniversaries" still are very painful, but we have to keep the memories of these victims alive in our hearts, don't we? An aside--I was amazed to learn the other night (on the news) that some of the children's families had banded together and tried to sue the daycare owner! Can you imagine? The judge threw the suits out--as well he should have. But how heartbreaking for her, that any of them would even try that. Very very sad.

  2. I remember visiting OKC on business after the explosion and visited the area, peeking through the chain link fence at the devastation. Visitors to the site had poked flowers and hand-written notes through the opens on the fence. I remember being awed at how much destruction took place throughout the entire area.

    People who worked at an office I visited - about 12 miles outside the city - recalled feeling the impact even that far away. Thanks for reminding us not to forget what happened.

    1. It was really amazing, Tom. My office was probably about 10 miles from there, and it shook so that the plaster fell from the ceiling. Yes...those poignant handwritten notes and stuffed animals and all have been some of the most heartwrenching images over the years to come from there. Thanks for stopping by today.

  3. Oklahoma, NYC, Boston... our world has changed, indeed, but horrible events have always been with us. You and your family have risen above - as we all must in the aftermath of tragedy. Blessings to you all.

    1. Meg, I agree--horrible events HAVE always been with us, it just seems that as time goes along the crimes become more heinous. Very sad commentary on our world. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting!