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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga