Omar L. Gallaga is an administration reporter for The Okahoma Daily,
the campus newspaper for the University of Oklahoma. He has been on
staff for two years and will serve as managing editor next fall. This is
his account of his first day helping to cover the bombing in downtown
About 2 a.m., Thursday, April 20
Please excuse this if it's a little incoherent. I'm a tad drunk
right now, which explains any inconsistencies, misspellings or gaping
holes. If everything seems okay to you, disregard this entire
I was up early anyway today (yesterday, if you're one of those
technical bastards who considers a new day 12 a.m. instead of just
calling it "the night before" like a human).
In any case, I was up covering a boring OU Board of Regents
meeting for The Daily which I had begun to cover the day before
(Tuesday). Things were pretty slow and I was trying to keep from
dozing as they approved course changes, golf course renovations and
At just after 9 a.m., people started going in and out of the
meeting and OU President David Boren's aides kept whispering stuff
to him. I knew something was up, but not to what extent. At one
point, he made the announcement that there had been an explosion
at a courthouse in Oklahoma City.
I figured, minor, minor, minor and thought, "if it's serious,
someone in the newsroom will take care of it." Mistake #1.
So I sat through about another 15 minutes of meeting before they
called for a recess. I called my editor, Joy Mathis, and told her
what was going on and she said (still not knowing the extent of the
damage and exactly what was happening) that if I thought nothing
major was going to happen, I should leave and maybe go downtown with
I actually went and got the regents agenda to see what else would
be covered and whether it would be worth it to stay before I began to
realize that nothing there would be as exciting at the ruckus
downtown. So, I told her I'd get the regents info from media queen
Catherine Bishop later and go downtown. "I'm on my way to the
newsroom" I told her and hung up.
I got to the newsroom at about 9:30 a.m. and things were pretty
chaotic. We'd already sent two teams of reporters and photographers;
about 8 people in all including Michelle Fielden, Tan Ly, Anita
Armarfio, Annette Berry, Matt Patterson, Jeff Moore and Jeff S. (a
photography intern whose last name escapes me), Giselle Perryman and
Rudolf Isaza. (9, excuse me.)
When I got to the newsroom, I was supposed to have gone with Tan
and Jeff to area hospitals. As it happened, they'd already left, so
I got stuck in the newsroom watching the news in amazement (I'd
listened to the radio and was learning, with dawning horror what a
huge story this was) and trying to find a local angle.
Joy made assignments and I was to visit Norman regional Hospital
and the Norman Red Cross. We had people going out to get student
reaction and to cover the terrorism angle which, at the time, was
still only a possibility.
We watched in horror as people ran down the streets of OKC,
afraid that a second bomb would go off. I've said some bad things
about TV news in the past, but in those moments, I was riveted--
glued to the screen in horror and amazement that this was within
driving distance of where I stood, watching.
People from the Ad Shop and just general students looking for a
TV set wandered in, asking questions and watching with us. We
worried about our staffers downtown and the danger they might be in. I
called home and checked with my mom when I heard Tinker Air Force
Base, where my dad works, would be shutting down.
Between 10 and 10:30 a.m., I took off for Norman Regional
Hospital, listening to the radio as I went.
It was all talk and all pretty good, I thought. The morning crank
DJs were taking on a rational, "let's calm the public down" tone as
if they were all doing AM oldies radio.
The parking lot wasn't very crowded and I waltzed right into the
hospital expecting to find mass chaos and instead seeing only calm
conversation about, what else, the explosion.
Press pass prominently displayed as it clipped to a belt loop, I
searched for the E.R. I found it and when I stood there, looking
like an idiot, half expecting to see Anthony Edwards walk in, I was
referred to public relations and escorted there.
The woman in public relations was nice, but constraining. She
told me the supplies and personnel numbers that they'd sent to OKC
and said no one had been brought in yet but that they were ready.
She asked that I check in with her and that I could maybe talk to a
woman whose husband had his car totaled in the blast. Cool.
I left her office and wandered back to E.R. The first time I'd
gone, I'd almost been allowed to sit in on the "command post" where
planning was going on and medical volunteers were being briefed while
others watched the TV in shock. That was until someone noticed my
press badge and told me to go to public relations.
This time, when they asked me, I told the truth. I said, "I
already checked in with PR and I told her I'd be observing and taking
notes. I don't want to get in your way or hinder you in any way."
No lie there, I thought.
I stayed there for almost an hour, watching E.R. people scurry
here and there, waiting for the first patients. No one was idle
enough to talk until one doctor began speaking and told me they had
their first explosion victim.
The guy had minor injuries and I might be able to talk to him,
the doctor said, if he gave permission. The man had been walking
into an elevator when the building he was in exploded.
YES! This was exactly what I'd been waiting and hoping for. I
waited patiently for a few more minutes until the man would be
Just when I felt it was time to approach the slightly wounded
man, the PR woman came in. She made a bluster about me not being
there and forbade me to speak to any patients. More good news-- the
woman whose husband's car was wrecked didn't want to talk to me
Dejected, I went to the cafeteria and ate a hurried burger.
I went to the woman's office (a dietitian) with the car-wrecked
husband and asked her what happened. She was too busy organizing a food
drive for the Red Cross that she wouldn't speak to me. Strike two.
Even more depressed, I decided to hit the Norman Red Cross.
At the Red Cross, there were people lined up on all sides and
cars parked in the far reaches of the grass.
I found a space out there and trekked. Everyone who saw my
press pass either got out of my way or referred me to some higher-up.
I finally spoke to a lovely woman who was director of donor
programs and she was very helpful. She told me what they were doing,
how many people were doing it and what people could do to help.
I saw people bringing in McDonald's hamburgers, drinks and other
foodstuff. People were lined up for about two hours each to give
I started hearing that President Clinton was going to speak, so
I found a room with a TV set and parked myself there. No Clinton.
Just more building and victim footage.
In that waiting room, I saw a poster whose content would become
the lead for one of my bombing stories. It read, ominously, "A
disaster can happen in any place, at any time!" WOW. I scribbled it
I talked to some students who were getting ready to donate and
left the scene, returning to the newsroom where I would spend the
rest of the day and night.
I heard that the National Guard was going to the Red Cross, but
I figured if they were going anywhere, it would be to OKC.
At about 1:30, I started transcribing my notes and working with
other reporters to share information. All the while, we watched
broadcast footage, amazed at the devastation.
We knew we had a 16 page paper to fill, so it was decided that
the first eight pages would be explosion coverage.
I was calling different places to clarify some information when
I heard that some sororities were organizing blood drives and other
activities to help victims.
We were getting phone calls from staffers downtown with sketchy
reports. There were constant high-5's when we learned new
information they were getting. Those high-5's stopped when we
learned that eight people were confirmed dead, six of those children
in the federal building day care.
The day continued on. Details surfaced and we reporters kept
on, digging more information out and getting details from downtown
and from the news channels.
About this time, Mas'ood Cajee, a brilliant and wonderful student
who used to write columns and helped set up the Daily online showed
up. He was worried that international student (especially Muslims)
would be blamed and harassed about the incident because by this time
it was evident there'd been a bombing and the suspects being sought
were described as 'Middle Eastern.'
Mas'ood came to me to talk about the Daily home page and
getting information online. As it happened, this would take up the
rest of both our days. We got approval from the editors to go ahead
and start setting things up and Mas'ood told us he had friends
working on the page at one of the computer labs.
Our reporters and photographers came in as various times, all
with incredible stories to tell. We continued to write. Volunteers
helped flesh out information and fill in the gaps in our reporting.
We were getting calls from Newsweek for photos, the BBC for info
and the Dallas Morning News for spare reporters, which we didn't
Things plowed on-- we threw around headline ideas. We liked
Explosion guts, rips, devastates or (my suggestion) bludgeons OKC.
We ended up with "Explosion cripples OKC" with a neato pull quote
"Why Oklahoma City?" above the headline.
Michelle Fielden, our senior reporter who I adore to no end, came
in, looking shell-shocked (pardon the expression-- unintentional).
She was shaking, her eyes were red and she spoke in low, hushed
She told us everything that had happened to her and the people
she'd talked to. She kept coming back to the children and the rescue
workers who spoke of the dead children they'd seen.
A reporter, Barbara, from the Muskogee Phoenix (Jack Willis, our
advisor's, old paper) set up camp at out paper and worked out of
We had people calling wanting information and there were rumors
I was panicking because it was getting late and there were still
details I needed. To add insult to devastating injury, I had to write
a story about the regents in spite of what was going on. Those were
about the toughest 10 inches I've ever had to compose.
Graphic people and copy editors came in as time sped by. We
were editing stories, writing stories, watching the TV news and
working toward our extended midnight deadline.
Rudolf came in and told us how he had followed women looking for
their children at OKC hospitals.
I had done well all day to keep my emotions in check, but when I
read Rudolf's quotes from the woman, I lost it.
The woman was looking for her grandchild and was talking about his
love of drawing. He had drawn a picture of a little man and a big man.
The big man was Shaquille O' Neal and the little man was the boy. A
few moments later, they took the woman to another room to shower her
a list of those confirmed dead. That's when Rudolf began to hear her
I began to cry when I read that.
I continued writing and serving as a liaison for photos and
stories getting on the web site. We had a preliminary mark up and it
looked really REALLY good. Mas'ood was doing miracles with html
As the night wore on, we all pitched in to edit stories and the
stress was starting to wear us down. Most of us knew we'd be there
all night and it was a constant grind to update stories with new
information and make sure eight pages of information didn't overlap.
The designs were starting to be put together and it all looked
fantastic. Stories were clean with great leads and good content and
we were all getting excited. This was it. The biggest stories of our
college careers-- hell, maybe our entire journalistic careers. And
we were going to do it right.
A freelance photographer friend I went to high school with, Chris
Newsom, brought in some incredible color photos that eventually ended
up on the web page. I had him scan the stuff in for the web.
The web page was getting better looking. We image-froze stuff
from TV and used it as art. We had to call the TV stations and they
gave us permission to use stuff, but were too busy to fax written
By midnight, we'd had about 750 hits from all different people
viewing the web page. This is considering we have few links to the
Daily and only people who made an effort to find it would have
located it. In all about 1,700 people have accessed the page and the
number was growing by 200 an hour during the evening.
I was getting worn out. I'd been on my feet for about 16 hours
and was ready to go home. The front page looked incredible. It made
it all worth it.
We had fantastic stories, first-rate photos and innovative
layout. I was so proud.
As the pages were sent to the press one by one, we began to
celebrate. When the last page was sent, a huge cheer went up and we
all hugged and shook hands and breathed a collective sigh of relief.
About 25 people were in the tiny backshop, putting the paper to bed.
The last minute editing, placing and fitting were done. It was over.
And it looked perfect.
No glaring omissions. No mistakes. No angles missed. This was
It may have been a morbid thing, but we were ready to go out and
have fun. It was the weak laughter of the grave diggers who have
seen too much and needed to put it out of their heads.
Celebration time. We all had tension headache and had gobbled
on a bottle of aspirin Joy Mathis had kept at her desk.
It was time to go. It would be an hour until the papers were
printed and we all wanted to go to The Mont for drinks and food.
More High-5's and hugs and we were off.
We joked and bonded and laughed as we'd been too busy to do all
day. About 12 of us were there, and there was some guzzling of the
alcohol. I had a single Dr. Pepper and something (whisky? vodka?)
and was completely gone- more drunk (tipsy? skunked?) than I've ever
been -- even on my infamous trip to New Orleans. You wouldn't know
it from this writing, would you?
Anyway, Joy caused a drink spill and the waitress gave us funny
looks, but dammit, we had a grand time. About a half hour into our
stay, Jack arrived with copies of the paper. We hooted and yelled
and cheered and read it, impressed with our own efforts and deeply
proud of the work we'd done. It looked good. It was perfect. We had
As the night wore on, we jotted down ideas on a legal pad of
what needed to be covered tomorrow. I'll be working on a story about
our web page and maybe about business insurance in the downtown area.
I got home after 2 a.m. and it's now 3:15 and I'm ending this.
I'm, of course, skipping my classes tomorrow (hell of an excuse, I
think I have), since I may be downtown tomorrow.
And that's my story. Hope you enjoyed.
Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga