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 second day helping to cover the bombing in downtown

Oklahoma City.


2:30 a.m. --- day 2 --- April 21, 1995


I just took my contact lenses off. They were beginning to feel

as if they'd been arc-welded on and I needed to take them off if I

was going to write this without spending large portions of my life

blinking at this screen.

Another nearly 16 hour day. I thought I was done with this.

I'd write my stories and go home and delegate with the web page and

get some sleep. Didn't happen.

After taking care of my net stuff and other online chores, I

went to bed just after 4 a.m. I was skipping classes Thursday, so I

didn't worry about getting up too early. I set the alarm at 11.

My biological clock slapped me awake at about 10:15. I turned

on the radio and listened to people calling in to comment and say a

few prayers for the victims. It was really quite nice and the DJs

from our local rock station, KATT handled themselves admirably.

I was showering and shaving when I called home. Mom told me

that taking my little brother to school took her an hour and a half.

She lives in Midwest City, just outside the front gate of Tinker Air

Force Base. Security was tight and a line stretched from the base to

the highway.

Mom and I exchanged things we'd seen and heard and I read her

Rudolf's bit in the paper. We almost had a good cry together, but I

needed to call Joy and get on the road to OKC, so we said goodbye.

I called Joy and she said a team was being sent (me included

this time) to the city and that I should head for the newsroom.


I walked to work, which is on the opposite site of the campus

from the just-off-campus duplex I live in. My car was left near the

newsroom because I'd been given a ride to the Mont and, of course,

didn't drive home.

The walk cleared my head. I was thinking story angles and

watching people on the way, seeing if they were carrying a copy of

our paper, pitying those who hadn't picked it up. YES, I was feeling

vain about it, but I still thought we kicked ass when we had to and

students got their student fee's worth and then some.

I was tired and my feet were sore from Wednesday, but I kept

walking. I ran into some interns on the way to work and they said

they loved the paper.

The newsroom

I walked in hurriedly because I wanted to make sure my car hadn't

been towed. It was sitting in the parking lot of a religious student

organization. Blessedly, the angels had graced me and it was still


I doubled back to the newsroom and we made lunch arrangements - a

quick run to McD's. I hadn't eaten since a sandwich about 5 p.m. the

day before, and all I had was the bottles of Evian water I'd packed

for the downtown trip.

Tiffany (editor) Pape and I went to get food and chatted along

the way about coverage and listened a bit to the radio coverage.

When we got back, the War Room was in full effect. Joy briefed

us on angles as some of us ate.

There were going to be several photographers and reporters ---

me, Greg Potts, Rudolf Isaza, Nicole Koch, reporters and Jeff Moore,

Brad Baranet and Lizz Dabrowski, photographers. We had others coming

and going from downtown in including Anita Armarfio who had gone

overnight, forsaking sleep.

We huddled and got together and rode in my car. First order of

business -- going to the Student Union and getting press passes made

up for those who didn't have them.

We got gas and made a side trip to Jeff's mother's workplace to

get a second cellular phone. Of those who were to come, Rudolf

stayed behind since he was covering the press conference which wasn't

until 3 p.m. It was about noon.

We got the best directions to get there and on the way discussed

out plan of attack. We would split into three groups -- Nicole and

Lizz, Greg and Brad, Jeff and I.

Traffic was heavy on the main downtown streets still open, but not

nearly as bad as I'd anticipated. We decided to park a bit away and

hoof the distance, seeing what we could see on the way.

My first glimpse of the actual building left me speechless. I was

dumbfounded. I was looking at it, but still not believing it, as if

it were just some clever bit of matte painting in a George Lucas


I was amazed, horrified, excited beyond belief and afraid. What

would we find there?


We were at least a quarter mile from the building and the press

area nearby. Even at that distance, we saw broken glass in windows

and doors boarded up. It was like waking up to find The Day After in

your downtown area. Just unreal.

Police were everywhere, even this far away. They were directing

traffic, talking and giving information.

Firefighters, national guard members and volunteer medical

workers hung out on the perimeter, chatting, munching, doing


We were walking briskly, a gaggle of hungry newshounds - a flock

of empty sponges desperate for great quotes.

We were getting close to Press town and the density of police and

onlookers was getting heavier. The closer we got to the building,

the more amazed we were. It looked like part of True Lies, with the

building that is blown apart by an F-whatever number plane, only with

a bigger budget.

Just a mess. A big, ugly gaping hole of destruction. You've

seen it. Imagine it right in front of you, real as the sun and more

detailed than any TV set you've seen footage from.

We trudged toward Press Town. It was blocked off and they were

starting to check for press ID's. Inside, a huge ENORMOUS gathering

of news vans, trailers, satellite equipment, cameras, reporters,

wires, notepads. It was like someone threw a Pulitzer in an empty

field and everyone was running to get it.

Lovely press town

One of my angles was to cover national media. I'd read a story on

the web the night before (Wed.) that the local news media was being

complimented by the networks and CNN for being professional and not

buckling. Channel 9 (our favorite at the newspaper) did a

particularly great job, as they always do.

I was to talk to other reporters. Fun, right?

Well, not at first. Everyone was busy. I tried to talk to CNN

people, but they were on live.

I looked --- GORDON GRAHAM! HOLY SHIT! There he is!

Later on, when he was BS'ing with Rep. J.C. Watts and Okla. Rep.

Frank Lucas (his district is the blast area), I shook his hand and

said, "Hi, Mr. Graham." I don't think he heard that. He was

distracted and he said, absently. "Hi, I'm Bernard Shaw."

SHIT! I was suddenly filled with ethnic guilt.

He was very nice, but made sure everything he'd been BSing about

with the politicians was off the record.

I had heard Geraldo was around and I spotted the big TCI trailer.

They were off in an area closer to the building than the regular

press was being allowed. It was fenced off and BUKU security was

there. I tried to get over and was denied. The cop said he'd get me

a Geraldo producer, so I waited a bit. When he didn't come back, I

took off.

Later on in the day, when I returned, I ran into him again and he

said he had brought a producer out but that I had been gone. I gave

him a note to pass along that said something like "Call me at this

number. By the way, tell Geraldo I said "hi."

The producer called me later on, but we missed each other and I

never got to talk to him.

Eventually, I would interview a crew from China and some local

broadcasters who were pretty proud of themselves, and not without

good reason. I also got a contact number from CNN and later found

out they had 70+ staffers in Oklahoma City.

Volunteers walked around and I pulled one aside. He was passing

out sandwiches to reporters. He said, casually, "Yeah, I was pulling

bodies out yesterday and.." went on. It was amazing.

A Salvation Army stand was set up, giving meals, Gatorade,

snacks and ice cream treats to reporters. It seemed wildly

incongruous. I'd brought along water because I expected I'd have to

rough it and rely on my own resources. I had trouble imagining that

people who were there to help victims would go out of their way to

help us--- a group of professionals often characterized as backbiting

weasels with no integrity.

Jeff and I made it out of press town and went out looking for

local businesses damaged and info about preliminary damage estimates

and insurance claims.

As we left the north entrance, we saw people trying to get in to

Press Town were being turned away. We made sure our badges were in

plain sight and went on our way, outside the mecca to all that is our


Businesses and people

I was beginning to notice the gawkers. There were a hell of a

lot of people just standing around watching the building, seeing if

it would collapse. People were mesmerized. Ladders were going up to

parts of the building and Jeff's telephoto lens captured it. We kept

hearing different death toll estimates, but we knew the numbers

hadn't changed much since last we'd been updated.

A few local shops were open for the day, repairing and cleaning.

Our first stop, we talked to two women who worked for a food

brokerage company. Their windows had blown in and Thursday they were

taking care of insurance, fixing computers and trying to get back up

to speed.

We found an apartment building where we had out best luck. It

looked like a hole and was very small. A man standing in the doorway

said, "you wanna come up and see?" We followed and got an incredible

view from the second floor. A family was cleaning house, sweeping up

class and plaster. From their window -- an almost clear view of the

destroyed building.

The man I spoke to said he'd been literally thrown out of bed

when his windows imploded and had run into the street, hoping to


He'd found a man who was thrown from the second story of the

Murrah building. Firefighters were putting out flaming cars and

trying to help the man, who had a broken spine or neck.

On the way out from that dark, broken place, we got lucky again.

We found an EMS worker who had saved a woman from the wreckage.

He completely opened up, telling me about how she'd been trapped in

the basement - only her shoulder and part of her head visible.

After 6 hours, they'd moved literally a ton of debris to get her

out. In the first hour, when there was the threat of a second

explosion, he'd had to leave her. "I reached down, squeezed her hand

and said 'I'll be back.'" BINGO!

The woman had fallen from her third-floor window office to the

basement level. Amazingly, she was almost unhurt. No broken bones

or internal injuries. Just one serious gash on her leg.

The guy was so great he even gave me her name, age and hospital

and -get this - a room number and a request that I 'tell her I sent

you." Holy shit.

The EMS man told me about a woman who'd had a limb amputated.

They'd given her pain killers, but not enough anesthetic to dull all

the pain. He heard her screaming.

More victims

A man standing next to the EMS guy started telling me about his

aunt, who was still unaccounted for. She worked in the 7th floor.

The man was an employee at a nearby day-care and he'd had a minor

injury from glass flying.

He was so torn up about his aunt and he hadn't heard a thing

about her. He said he wanted to know how to feel and couldn't until

he got word. He also said he was tired of all the sightseers.

"They think its Disneyland," he said.

My heart went out to him. I told him I was pulling for him and

wished him the best. I was sincere as hell, holding back tears and I

hope to god I sounded sincere to him. I as beginning to wonder how

many reporters he'd talked to and how many had really cared.

I shook off those thoughts and moved on. I met an elderly woman

was at a small home/law office when the blast hit. The little place

had some serious structural damage. The inside was decorated with

Democratic memorabilia. I saw something amazing -- I had a peg, my

second perfect one in two days: There was a portrait of JFK on the

wall that had been torn in half during the explosion. I was thinking

wow... the victim of another American tragedy. As it turned out, my

editors thought that idea was way cheesy, so I chucked the analogy,

though I kept the detail.

We wandered back to Press Town. They weren't letting anyone near

the blast site and I was beginning to think there wasn't a whole lot

more to do. I had joined a few press circles when firefighters and

medical personnel made general announcements.

Getting out and a hospital visit

Back at Press Town, I ran into the Insurance Commissioner of

Oklahoma, which was a lucky break. He gave out a press release and

an info number.

It was almost 4:30 p.m., so Jeff and I started heading back to the car

to meet up with the others. We had been calling Joy at almost hourly

intervals and it was time to get back and start writing.

We ran into some Muskogee people we'd met the day before and

chatted a bit, exchanging email addresses and chit chatting.

We found out that the rest of our group thought we were meeting

at the Civic Center, not the car, so Jeff and I weaved around the

downtown area until we met up with them.

We found them and took off for the hospital. At the time, I

thought the woman rescued was the amputee. that wasn't true, but I

still had a room number and a good reference.

We exchanged info and discovered some of us had interviewed the

same people. It was okay -- we'd sort through quotes later and divide

them with what stories we each wrote.

We headed to the hospital and parked. I took off my press pass

and hid my notepad in my backpack. The rest of the crew stayed in

the lounge. I told Jeff I'd call if a photo op presented itself.

I walked down the hall stealthily, looking for the room. I heard

people coming out of the room and I made myself scarce. The parents,

I thought.... They were going to go eat and leave her alone.

They disappeared down the hall and I knocked on the door. A

woman appeared and I introduced myself. I thought she was a nurse-

she turned out to be the woman's sister.

She was very nice and helpful, but said the woman was resting and

was under doctor's advice to rest and stop giving interviews for the

day. She offered to let me see her the next day, and filled me in on

details I didn't know. I was able to use the details, like the fact

that she was supposed to have closed a deal on a home the next day

and the bank was bringing the papers to her to sign. Also, her

church was going to move her furniture so she could move in when she

got discharged.

There was a lot of human emotion. Of her coworkers, only 13 of 31

had been accounted for. She was depressed about that, her sister


I thanked her and we left, making the half hour trek back to OKC.

On my way out of the hospital, though, and on the same floor, I

noticed something...

There was an area of construction. Tiles were off the floor,

pipes were exposed and wires hung like nooses. It reminded me so

much of downtown, I had to step back and just walk away.

Back at home base...

We got back and there were amazing things happening. I heard

our online edition web site had gotten over 10,000 hits and it was


We ate pizza as we read email from all over the world from

Canada to The Netherlands. People were congratulating us and making

us feel incredibly special. We were worn out, tired, and lacking the

adrenaline rush of the previous day, but the notes were nice and kept

us going for a while.

I sat down to transcribe notes. Greg, Nicole and I hashed out

who was writing what and agreed to share quotes and sources as

needed. I was going to write four stories-- the media, a general

overview of downtown day 2, the woman's rescue and a story about our

web site which we were starting to get national and international

attention about.

As I typed in notes, I kept getting phone calls and questions

about the web site. Mas'ood wasn't around, so I had to field

questions about pictures being downloaded. The Fort Worth Star

Telegram called and interviewed me and I ended up taking about 20

minutes to explain the history of our Web site, how we'd organized

and what went into putting it together. It's a subject I love to go

on and on about and when a reporter asks, you bet your ass I'm going

to ramble.

I got back to work, munching on some pizza and typing furiously.

I was trying to do it all -- worry about the Web, type notes, start

working up leads and organizing, help with photo captions and do it

all above the din and buzz of the newsroom. It was past 7 p.m. and

I was worried I wasn't going to be able to do it all by deadline.

The night wore on.

It took me almost an hour and a half just to transcribe my notes.

After that, everything pretty much fell into place. Greg took over

the Web story, which eventually became just an infographic.

My three remaining stories turned into two -- an overview with

local color and an emphasis on what it all looked like with the media

and the gawkers. Then, a story about the rescued woman.

Our deadlines to send out pages was 10 p.m. for all inside pages

and 1 a.m. for Page One. I think. No wait --- 12 a.m. for page 2 and

3 (full pages with no ads), 1 a.m. for page 1 and 10 p.m. for all

else. That's right.

I worked on the rescue story and it wrote itself.

In between, one of our photographers, Anita, came back from one of the

family shelters, crying. She'd seen the people who were sick of

reporters and nearly catatonic in grief and she could just hear the

clicking of cameras around her. She wondered why we do this -- why we

put them through this shit.

I hugged her and explained as best I could that people out

there-- all over the world now with the Web site, needed to know how

terrible and tragic and painful this was. They needed to feel some

of the pain and horror the families felt. The pictures would do

that. We would do that. It was our responsibility to make them see

and make them understand it all, however discomforting it might be.

Amazingly, she smiled and thanked me. I went back to work.

It was getting late, but the stories were getting done. I was

getting frantic trying to finish. My rescue story ended up 15

inches. The overview kept growing till it crested at 25.5. I was


I went to the backshop and Mas'ood came in, working on the site.

We didn't have as much help as the day before when Joy had

combined all the stories into one huge text file that Mas'ood just

copied. We would have to, instead, send each file individually out

of Newsedit or Quark.

As the copy editors rushed to get pages out, I was trying to

get final versions of stories, adding the appropriate headlines and

decks from the laid-out pages and converting them to text for Mas'ood

and his crew.

It was all over at about 1:30 a.m. I hung around, helping where I


Joy, Tiffany, Tan Ly and I sat around a bit to discuss story

strategy for the weekend. We'll have a full staff for weekend

coverage if we need it for Monday's paper.

We didn't go out and party tonight. None of us had it in us.

We were tired, depressed that we hadn't done quite as well as job as

the night before (so we thought -- it's probably just as good if not

better). We all went our separate ways and I came home to write

this and answer all my e-mail that has built up since last night.

I saw the first few issues off the press. They look good. Not

quite as good as yesterday's, but hey, that's to be expected.

You can't find an issue of yesterday's paper on campus. I wanted

to grab a stack to send off to send to friends and family, but I have

about three. By the time I got to campus, I couldn't find a copy on any


Overall, I think we looked as good or better than all the state

papers. We didn't use any AP Wire photos and I don't think we used

any AP bombing stories except as background or backup info for our

own stories.

Last I heard, we had 450 people on the Web site at one time,

and that's the maximum the server can handle. There were crashes

and lags and a mirror site was created in Arizona to handle the


This weekend, I'm going to interview the rescued woman and

probably find some reason to get back downtown. The death toll, last

I heard, was over 50. I'm depressed. And tired. And worn out. I

need sleep. It's 4:15 a.m. That's all for now.


<== Day 1 | Day 3 ==>

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Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga