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 third day helping to cover the bombing in downtown
Part of an ongoing series!
12:30 a.m. --- day 3 --- April 22, 1995
The first night I began this mass emailing, which has turned to
into some kind of personal memoir and curiosity among mailing lists,
I admitted to being slightly drunk while writing.
Tonight, as I begin Day 3, I face a different problem -- my arms,
so useful in taking notes from the downtown Oklahoma City area and
used to lug a 32 oz. bottle of Gatorade and a backpack full of
supplies and reporter tools, are now weak. I can't move them too
well and as my wrists lie on the pad just south of my keyboard, I
feel this pain as I type.
I've heard the expression "bone-weary" before. I've felt it
before. I am, after all, a college student. But this is a different
kind of all-nighter. What keeps me up is not an exam or a put-off
paper I need to write, but the documentation of history -- the
transcribing of human stories, entrusted to me by victims, workers
and family members all of whom wanted their stories told accurately
and with compassion. That compassion has a price, and the toll-keeper
is whipping my ass.
Today, Friday, was the first day of our weekend coverage. Since
we won't put out another edition of The Daily till Monday, we were
planning weekend strategy and taking shifts. Then big news started
to break. We'd already lost our adrenaline rush the day before and
now weariness and fatigue were setting in. People who had stayed
cool since Wednesday began to lose it. Reporters and editors cried,
seeing photos and footage of injured children and hearing stories
that were too close to home, and so terribly personal we could only
give in to some sort of human reaction.
I'd gone to bed at 5:15 a.m., writing and mass-e-mailing out Day 2
of this very document. I slept uneasily, seeing the faces of
victims, feeling as if the Alfred Murrah building and its gaping hole
of a side were burned into the inner of my eyelids.
At about 10 a.m., my mom called. She said 50 dead bodies had been
found and the death toll had gone over 100. It turned out to be a
communications breakdown at the network, but at the time, I had no
idea that was true. I moaned loudly, still groggy. What a way to
I knew I couldn't go back to bed, so I got up, began grooming
myself for another workout and checked my e-mail. I was getting good
reactions from friends about my Day 1 and Day 2 coverage, so I
decided to go on with it.
Mas'ood Cajee, who has become a constant source of a brilliance
and warmth in the last few days, had left me e-mail, asking that I
mail him or call ASAP. I figured it had something to do with our
discussion of putting the Day 1 and Day 2 accounts on our online
My friend Margot Habiby, who attends Columbia and has kept in
close contact, assured me that she'd post them on some
journalism-related mailing lists, so I'd made sure to send out a more
closely-edited copy with some minor additions.
I called the newsroom to check in. There were no editors around,
but I learned Mas'ood was there, so I asked to talk to him. He
seemed in good spirits, so it was a surprise when he told me what the
email was about.
He told me had had been having some emotional trouble early in the
day and had emailed me first because he needed someone to talk to.
He'd worked out the problem and was doing well --- so well, in fact,
that he was being interviewed by Time Magazine for a full article
about our efforts to put together the Daily Web site.
Mas'ood and I had speculated about it. Many papers from several
regions had contacted us about Web-related stories, including the
Denver Post, Fort Worth Star Telegram, Interactive Age and American
Journalism Review. Newsweek was asking for color photos they'd seen
at our Web site, so we were pretty confident they'd include something
about us in their "Cyberscope" section.
I was wandering around the house in my robe, talking Web info to
Mas'ood. He told me that the entire world wide Web server had come
to a screeching halt because of the overload 10,000+ hits had put on
the system. Amazingly, we'd brought down pretty much the entire
university computing system, or at least crippled it for a while.
Mas'ood, who is an expert at these things, told me it was a bottleneck
that was slowing down the entire Internet. I held the phone in place
and stood very still for a few minutes.
As a four-year net vet, I know what it is to be face a huge
system lag because some braniac at NASA is calculating how many licks
it would take to get to the Tootsie center of Jupiter. And now here
I was, a co-conspirator in system lag everywhere. It was almost
We were talking numbers and improvements for the Web page when my
front door was knocked on. The TV was on, my morning dose of Mystery
Science Theater 3000 replaced by live Channel 9 coverage, but I was
paying little attention. I figured it was Anita, who had used my
house as a place to sleep while I worked when she was too tired to
make the 20 minute drive to Moore. She had worked about 48 hours
straight, staying downtown to take pictures overnight.
I opened the door and found, instead, Amy Spears, a high school
friend who was coming to see my apartment and see if she was
interested in taking over when I moved out for my Tulsa World
internship this summer.
I was still talking excitedly to Mas'ood as I gestured her in.
She looked around and I didn't even have time to think of the dirty
underwear, tons of newspapers and assorted crappage littering my
sometimes (on occasion) neat home.
She left quickly and I began to get dressed while I finished up
talking to Mas'ood.
My mom called again to tell me she'd sold one of the puppies our
two Shi-tzus had sired about two months ago. My father heard about
Time Magazine and flipped, insisting I go the newsroom immediately
and get interviewed.
I hung up, got dressed and began to crave McDonald's, which was
becoming the easiest and fastest thing to eat these days. Time was
something I had little of and clogged arteries seemed a small price
to pay for the chance to cover the story I was covering.
Considering the small amount of sleep I'd gotten, I thought I was
doing pretty well. I was peppy, full of spirit and ready to tackle
the day's news, even though it would have normally been my day off
from work and classes. (Fridays.. they're wonderful.)
I grabbed my press pass, which was still attached to yesterday's
denim shirt, jammed it in my pocket, and left the house.
After picking up McDonald's, I was at the newsroom.
On the way, something troubling-- on KATT, my rock music station
of choice, they were playing a remix of Live's wonderful "Lightning
Crashes" which was mixed in with sound clips of news broadcasts,
victim accounts and rescuer's voices.
My first reaction was disgust-- some radio station had made a
remix out of this horrible tragedy. As I listened more closely, I
saw what a perfect song it was for the situation and that the clips
had been chosen well and had some strong impact. I was shaking as I
parked my car and got out. It must be art, my reeling mind mused.
In the newsroom, I got to see other papers. The Oklahoman was
doing well and had a great back-page graphic of the downtown area and
the departments of the building, grouped by location.
The front page of the Dallas Morning had an INCREDIBLE AP photo of
a victim trapped in the wreckage. "HOW THE HELL DID AP GET THIS!?" I
screamed. I hadn't been able to get within a city block of the
mangled building Thursday.
Mas'ood started talking Web stuff again. He was fielding calls
from all sorts of media and wondering how he should handle the press.
He made the right decision in deciding to handle most of the media
with our blessing, since he was more informed about it than any of
us. Even though he hasn't actually been on staff (he was a
columnist in the past), he was becoming a fixture in the newsroom
and a confidant for me.
Unlike our first online edition, the second day had a few holes.
Mas'ood crew had worked 48 hours non-stop, typing in html code and
doing layout all the while. Because of time constraints and other
factors, they had stopped at about 1:30 a.m. Thursday night with a
few stories and photos unplaced, the plan being that they would
return the next morning to finish.
That didn't happen. The server had crashed and they couldn't even
get in to make minor changes or create a mirror site at another
school to alleviate some of the congestion.
I made it a point later on to tell our director of student pubs how
much effort had gone into the Web and to update her on how the server
was doing and how we'd almost brought down the Internet.
She was taken aback by it all and came to the newsroom personally
to thank Mas'ood for his effort.
On the news, a suspect had been arrested in Perry, Oklahoma.
Rudolf was working on that angle and kept his eyes on the TV while he
made phone calls and compiled information.
I decided to take a breather before deciding what I was going to
work on. Things were pretty lax because of no Saturday paper, but
there were still about 10 people in the newsroom ready to work.
I was half hoping someone from Newsweek or CNN would come in and
talk with us about the web site, but nothing like that happened.
Joy asked me to head downtown and do general Day 3 coverage. The
plan was that we would run shifts with at least one reporter downtown
at all times with a photo buddy in tow. I would go first and meet
Anita, who was already there.
After much coordinating and the corralling of French guys (more on
that in a bit), I was ready to go.
Right before, though, came the news that the bombing might be
linked to an executed murderer in Arkansas.
We'd run a wire story about the guy (Snell), a white supremacist
who was executed Wednesday night. We began to see the links -- he
was involved with extremist groups, he had spoken of revenge to the
Gov. of Arkansas before he was put to death and his revenge-seekers
would have had a beef with the ATF, whose federal (I think regional)
office was housed in the Murrah building.
One thing that stuck in my mind was something Susan Sasso (our
Student Pubs. director) had heard -- if it was a terrorist attack
designed just to kill people, the bomb would have been placed on the
other side of the building where the blast would have affected more
surrounding buildings and cost more lives.
It seems, she said, that they were targeting a specific federal
office. Made sense to me.
I had to leave just as federal officers were closing in on
suspects in Michigan and, I think, Arkansas.
Part of my duties downtown were to take two French guys downtown
with me. The French guys, one of whom I'm sure was named Claude,
were in town for something to do with their majors (business) and
just happened to be in Oklahoma during the explosion. A newspaper
from near their home asked them to report, so I was to take them with
The drive was long and uneventful. Claude and his fellow
temp-reporter chatted with me about school and the things that were
happening. I recounted Rudolf's story about the grandmother and the
killed child and I choked up as I told it. That story still had the
power to make me cry if I let it.
We got a little lost getting downtown. If possible, it seemed the
blocked-off perimeter had grown, possibly to keep out gawkers. We
parked about half a mile from the Murrah building and walked it the
rest of the way.
Claude and his friend weren't able to get into Press Town because
they lacked IDs. I suggested they go around the outside, talking to
local people and business owners. We agreed to meet at the car at
about 5 p.m.. It was 3:15.
I ran to get to where I was supposed to meet Anita, but she wasn't
there. I went on, wondering what was new with the suspects.
I kept going in and out of Press Town wondering what to do. I'd
already covered the media and some local business stuff. So where
was I going to go? I still couldn't get anywhere near the blast and
rescue workers didn't have any new information. The death toll was
staying steady and no survivors were being found.
I remembered, too vividly, what one of the reporters had told me
the night before. They had swept the building with the radar of one
of those futuristic helicopters outfitted with heat-seeking
capabilities like the one in Blue Thunder. (The movie, not the show.
I quite like Roy Schieder.)
She said they hadn't found a single trace of anyone alive. I
closed my eyes for a minute and fought it all back, successfully, it
With a slight lack of direction, I decided to go see the residents
and business owners I'd met the day before and show them the
newspaper. One woman I'd interviewed was part of the dominant art on
In an area I'd walked near the day before, now was a mass of
police tape and a few national guardsmen doing, well.. guarding is
what they were doing.
A police officer idling said the military police would kick my ass
if I crossed the line because the buildings on that entire block were
structurally unsound and could go at any moment.
I talked a guardsman into letting me speak to a worker at one of
the businesses I'd been to the day before. They tracked down the
woman and she was pleased to see me and asked that I mail her a copy
of the paper.
I talked to a auto-shop owner who was very colorful. He was
blunt and honest and I liked him instantly.
He said the explosion might ruin him financially, even though he
was leasing the shop. He wasn't getting any phone calls for
business, but was adamant that it was all secondary to the suffering
and pain that was going on elsewhere in the city.
I asked for his thoughts on the suspects. He said something to
the effect of, "They should string up and kill those motherfuckers."
He said, "you probably can't use that language, sorry."
"That's okay," I assured him. "We're a college paper."
I talked to the people I'd called 'gawkers' and found them to be
no more curious than reporters like me. They said they wanted to be
a part of history and see for themselves this act of brutality. Many
of them had brought food and supplies for the Salvation Army.
One woman and her friend had a group of about seven children with
them. They said they were proud of Oklahomans and were there because
this was their community and they felt they needed to be with others
who had been affected.
I almost lost it again when a little girl, 7, said she wanted to
talk to me. She said, "I feel really sad for the little kids that
had to die."
I teared up badly and my hands were shaking as I took down her
quote. Much like I'm tearing up now as I write this.
Almost inaudibly, I told her, "I do too, sweetheart."
More from downtown
There were very few things I felt I was doing. I had a few good
quotes and some follow up information, but nothing especially meaty.
I went back to Press Land (is the Florida equivalent Press World?)
and caught up with a new friend from Chinese Television, Lynn Shih,
who I'd met the day before. We chatted and bitched about the heat as
I sipped on a 32 oz. Fruit Punch Gatorade I'd gotten from the
I'd made a donation at the time, but I wondered how many reporters
were leeching Twinkies and Snapples and sandwiches without paying or
giving a shit, as if this were a catered sports banquet.
I ran into a broadcaster from Seoul, Korea and he turned out to be
a great source. He talked about covering terrorism in South Korea
and how Oklahomans had impressed him with their concern and
willingness to help.
Geraldo was nowhere to be seen. I noticed that some additions had
been made - there were many more broadcast vans and trailers outside
the press area (lack of space?) and Southwestern Bell had installed
phone booths for free locals calls at one end of the press area.
I never did catch up with Anita and I was on my way out when I
decided to take one last look around press town before heading back
to meet the French guys.
(Did I mention one was named Claude? I'm pretty sure his name was
My China TV friend was part of a gaggle of broadcasters flanking a
man in green medic clothing. He was describing a woman he'd helped
free Wednesday. Coincidentally, she was the woman from the great AP
photo that appeared on the front page of the Dallas Morning.
He was a dentist from Choctaw, just a few miles down the road from
my parents' home in Midwest City. He described her wounds - she'd
had a leg amputated, ribs broken and a broken arm.
The leg had to go when it was clear that the enormous slab of
debris pinning her leg could not be moved without heavy equipment
that would jeopardize the building's not-falling-downedness.
I shook his hand as I introduced myself and he gave a few more
details. The woman was 28 and was expected to recover.
Someone asked him if he'd seen any other people alive in the
building since Wednesday. "No," he said flatly.
I headed out of Press Town, eventually meeting up with the French
guys. The drive back was jammed after I navigated poorly through a
city of blocked streets and one-ways.
The highways were packed with cars, most with their headlights
turned on like mine. I looked down at my blue ribbon -- Michelle had
gone out and bought rolls of dark blue ribbon and made us pins to
wear downtown. Even the French guys wore them.
Conversation, the act, not the art of it, was dead. I was drowsy,
almost falling asleep at the wheel, despite it being broad and bright
daylight. We finally got in to Norman and I dropped French guys off.
On the way back the newsroom, my body getting numb and sore from
sheer weariness, I listened to the radio. They were announcing
supplies the Red Cross needed. At the top of their list: Vic's
I thought, absently, that it was to alleviate pain, then I thought
it was to lubricate bodies to get them out, then something much
darker. The DJ voiced what I suddenly knew, remembering a scene from
The Silence of the Lambs.
He said they needed the Rub for rescue workers to cover the smell
of decomposing bodies in the building. My hands were on the
warm steering wheel. My air conditioner was on, full blast. The
heat, I thought.
I was close to tears again. The drive, only a few miles, was too
I parked just outside the newsroom and discovered a cup I'd been
looking for full of orange Hi-C had spilled on some papers I'd
previously kept in my backpack before removing them to lighten my
I went into the newsroom, suddenly so tired. I had no idea how or
what I was going to write.
Tiffany looked at me and said, "Why aren't you at the
I uhhhed.. I hadn't seen a news broadcast since about 2:30 p.m.
It was now past 6.
"They're taking the suspect to the courthouse!"
I let out a deep breath, tired, frustrated, not caring.
By this time, we had a second team downtown and I figured they
could take care of it.
A while later, it changed. He would be taken to Tinker Air Force
Base to the Federal Magistrate's building. I almost took off then.
My father is in the Air Force and I have a military ID. I could get
on base easily.
The problem was they were only letting one camera person from the
three local networks and only a few print reporters in and they would
have to pool their info and footage with other people.
We called frantically, trying to see if we'd have trouble getting
in. They almost agreed when they mixed us up with the Daily
Oklahoman. Eventually, they said no. We weren't on the list. The
Oklahoman, Tulsa World, AP and Dallas Morning News were.
We also found out that the local AP Bureau Chief was the one who
made the list.
Tiff assures me this was not the reason, but I'm convinced it has
a bit to do with the fact that we are currently "going round and
round" with AP because our paper is not given an educational discount
enjoyed by most other college newspapers. They've never given us a
good reason not to, but we are charged upwards of $400 a week for AP
service while other colleges pay close to $96. Therefore, we are
kind of locked in battle with AP over this problem and there is even
talk of legal action being taken. Of course, a change in the policy
is money right out of the local bureau chief's pocket. Because of
these money concerns, we are one of the last papers on their
low-speed wire system and we have no AP photo access.
I spent the rest of the night watching the news and hanging out
with Mas'ood, hashing out Web stuff and fielding more phone calls.
Matt and Rudolf were taking notes and putting together a
chronology. I vegged out and tried to relax. Instead, I was more
Tiff and I eventually went out to The Mont to eat. She had a
craving for their tortilla chips and salsa. I insisted they were not
the end all, be all of Oklahoman existence and, being Hispanic,
suggested a nice Mexican restaurant where the chips are warm and
No go. We went to The Mont. Michelle joined up with us later.
She'd spent most of the day catching up on sleep and I hated her for
it. I was getting loopy, nutty. The chicken enchiladas were good, I
think... my taste buds were dozing.
Joy paged me to say she'd gotten back from OKC and was waiting for
us so she could close down the newsroom. We paid our check (rather
Tiffany paid it - she owed me a meal) as I bitched about The Mont's
one-refill drink policy.
It was good. We got the story out of our heads for a bit and
kept ourselves from going crazy.
We were going to go to Hastings, which has a huge collection of
national newspapers, to see what the coverage was in other areas, but
it got too late and they were closed.
Back in the newsroom, Mas'ood was still talking to people on the
phone. Earlier, Annette had made a deal with Knight Ridder to have
one of our photographers take color photos for $250 a day. We sent a
The Web site was back up, fully operational and running smoothly.
I was happy, but tired.
We sat around and talked terrorism. After having lived for three
years in Germany, I knew what it was like to live in constant fear of
bomb threats and death. It was inevitable, I said, that someone
would eventually use domestic terrorism to further their political
agenda in America.
It was no different, I said, than killing a doctor who performs
Mas'ood made an interesting point that Clinton had never seemed
so plausible than in the last two days. His visit to Oklahoma was
going to be huge, important and a very courageous move since
ultimately the bombing was targeted against the government, whom
Anita, who'd returned from downtown, didn't like our prophesy that
things were going to get worse and that this probably wasn't the last
time something like this would happen in our borders. I agreed it
was depressing. We disbanded for the night.
It was just after midnight and I could barely walk. I came home
and began typing. That was about two and a half hours ago.
Since I'm going to go to the city at about 10 a.m., I expect it'll
be another tiring day. I'll continue again tomorrow night.
Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga