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OKC Bombing Victims Remembered

Today marks 16 years after the tragic bombing that killed 168 people. Columnist Erin Gallagher tells her story about losing a friend.

On this day in 1995, I remember exactly what I was doing. I still get teary eyed thinking about it.

I was living in a basement apartment in Iowa City getting ready for journalism class at the university.  It was about 10 a.m. when Dan Rather's news alert interrupted regular programming. 

He said a bomb went off in Oklahoma City. I remember thinking that my former college roommate, Julie Welch, was living there. I wondered if maybe she knew what was going on. I thought about calling her, but I was in a hurry. At the time, I did not put two and two together.

That was a Wednesday. The next day, our mutual friend, Beth McGuire, called to give me the news. Julie was working in the Murrah Building. She was missing.

Julie had worked as a Spanish translator in the Social Security Administration. As best as I understand it, she had gone down to the entrance to meet some clients.

I got the call Sunday morning. They found her under the rubble.

Julie and Beth and I met freshman year at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

We had all been roommates at one point or another. Beth and I started college at an innocent 17. Julie was a little older.

It's funny the things you remember. For instance, I remember the sun shining in Julie's auburn hair that first day of college. And I remember her equally bright smile.

Oh, how much we all grew up those years. I carried guilt for many years about our unresolved argument.

Nevertheless, classmates from all over the country trekked long distances to the funeral. For me, the only flights  from Cedar Rapids to OKC stopped in Minneapolis and again in Memphis. Beth came from Denver.

Joe Hoover drove from Boston, I think, and dropped his transmission somewhere in PA. He abandoned his truck there and drove a rental straight through. 

Some of our friends leased a van. Another group chartered a bus.

While there, we visited the bomb site. Even with the car windows up, the smell was unbearable.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6. They caused a estimated $652 million of damage within a 16-block radius. They said they were motivated by hatred about the events of Waco in 1993. 

There is only one thing worse than the unyielding hatred that caused these horrific, deplorable murders. That is the Columbine massacres.

There is speculation that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold specifically chose April 20, the day after the Oklahoma City Bombing. They killed 13 people before turning the guns on themselves.

After I agreed to write this story, I spent a few days thinking about my point.

What is the message? I usually don't have a problem getting on a soap box when I feel strongly about something. 

And yet, after 16 years, I got nothing. 

Since Julie's death, her dad, Bud Welch, and I have stayed in touch. He travels the country – and the world, actually – speaking out against the death penalty. I went with him a few times. Somehow, through all of this, he was able to find forgiveness. He even visited the McVeigh family. 

Once, Bud told me that the only person hurting worse than him was Timothy McVeigh's father. The shame, he said, on that man's face. . .

Hatred breeds hatred. Forgiveness can heal. 

So I guess as we remember the tragic events of April 19 and 20, let's focus on that. Bud Welch lost everything when he lost his daughter. And yet, he was able to find purpose.  Remember the Julie Welches and forgive the Timothy McVeighs. 

That's a gift we can give ourselves.

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