Two years after the Oklahoma City bombing, survivors gathered for 168 seconds of silence Saturday, each second a mournful salute to the victims killed in the terrorist blast.
At 9:02 a.m., the exact moment of destruction, church bells tolled and relatives and friends bowed their heads in prayer at the site where the bomb exploded.
Many wept as the names of the dead, including 19 children, were read aloud.
“We feel a need to mark this day. We need this; we need the hugs,” said Kathleen Treanor, whose parents and son died in the blast at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which is now a grassy mound.
Janie Coverdale, whose grandsons, Aaron and Elijah, were killed, said she feels pain every day.
“It will take a long time (to heal),” she said. “We have to keep this alive in other people’s minds.”
Many left behind photographs and bouquets for the victims and lined up to get seedlings from the survivor’s tree, a slippery elm damaged in the April 19, 1995 bombing.
“I will go home and I will plant this and I will always remember,” said Cathy McCaskell, whose sister, Terry Rees, was killed in the bombing.
Steve Powell of Tulsa stood quietly with his rescue dog, Brontee. They were part of the frantic rescue effort after the bombing.
“The people who went into the building don’t feel like heroes,” he said. “I can’t speak for everybody, but we worked a mass murder. The attention shouldn’t be on us. It should be on the families.”
The second anniversary of the bombing came a few days before opening arguments were to begin in the trial of bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh in Denver.
McVeigh, 28, a former Army soldier, is accused of parking a rental truck packed with explosives in front of the building in retaliation for the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, two years earlier.
Federal officials across the country took extraordinary security precautions Saturday in case anti-government militants used the anniversary for another attack.
The courthouse where McVeigh is awaiting opening statements was turned into a virtual fortress.
In a letter to the survivors, President Clinton wrote: “We will always remember the courage shown by the citizens of your strong and united city during that dark time.”
Gov. Frank Keating declared the anniversary a day of remembrance and prayer.
“The prayers should be for those who died and their families, for those who were injured and for justice,” Keating said.