The figure from the medical examiner’s office seemed so precise: 90 people missing in the federal building bloodbath.
But this is a number that changes - and changes again.
It was 300 the day of the bombing and 150 over the weekend. By Tuesday, local officials had raised their estimate from 100 to 137. But on Thursday, it was lowered to 97 and finally to 90, with no large increase in the number of confirmed dead.
The shifting estimates, said the medical examiner’s chief of operations, Ray Blakeney, are the result of shifting reports - calls from people notifying his office of someone located safely or, less frequently now, of someone just reported missing.
“In some early instances, we had six or seven reports on the same person,” Blakeney said. “But through constant checking, we’ve winnowed that down.”
Three people - two women and a 4 1/2-year-old girl - were not added to the missing list until a full week after the bombing.
The only relative who could have reported their absence was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, traumatized by the horror she felt when she went to look for her sister, daughter and granddaughter, said Dave Demuth, a medical examiner’s assistant.
More than 500 people worked in the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, where a Social Security office, a day-care center and a credit union were located.
No one knows for certain how many others may have been taking a morning stroll, running errands or arriving to do business there when the bomb exploded at 9:02 a.m. April 19.
Blakeney said his office expects to identify all of the dead, but Demuth worried that some of the missing may never be found.
“I just think with the nature of the explosion … anyone standing in close proximity may not be there,” he said.
A small but steady stream of calls come to Red Cross emergency offices here from across the country, seeking word of missing friends and relatives.
As of Thursday, 1,503 calls had come to the Red Cross “disaster welfare inquiry.” They have been able to provide answers for 889 of them.
Spokeswoman Gina Giallonardo said 200 Red Cross staffers are working in a 24-hour-a-day operation, sometimes going out to knock on doors to track the missing.
Some have been found in hospitals, shelters or friends’ homes. “A lot of times, people just leave the area (afterward). They’re confused,” she said.
Within hours of escaping the devastated building, Housing and Urban Development employees began a non-stop “phone tree” that gave them a good estimate of how many people in their office had not escaped.
“It was a pretty close office,” said Jack Flynn, a HUD spokesman in Washington. Of 124 workers, 89 have been accounted for, 13 have been confirmed \dead and 22 are still missing.
Still, there are those who cling to the remote hope that some among the missing could be alive.