Omar L. Gallaga is an administration reporter for The Oklahoma 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 seventh day helping
to cover the bombing in downtown Oklahoma City.
That feeling of normalcy came back again.
I still feel this sense of loss that the story seems to lose its
steam day by day. There is still pain and still sorrow and still
loss, but already, the rest of the world is forgetting. Even before
the last bodies are pulled out (which may number another hundred
dead, at least), there seem to be fewer reporters in Press Town and
today CNN led with something else for the first time I'd seen since
Ginger Rogers died today.
I don't know how to feel about that one. I mean, who didn't love
Ginger Rogers? Who didn't think she was wonderful?
But still, it gnaws at me. Ginger Rogers died. One woman.
Famous yes, but one woman.
Here in Oklahoma, it will number in the hundreds. Children,
mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons... And CNN led
with Ginger Rogers.
I don't know. My news judgment is getting cloudy. Maybe if I
lived anywhere else, I'd agree with that decision, but right now, I
just hurt. My nerves are raw and tangled and exposed and random dust
particles could well make me bleed right now.
Rudolf and I are the two reporters Joy wants to continue going
downtown, maybe alternating days, and keeping up with the story.
Much as it still hurts, being downtown is still exciting and still
gives me an adrenaline rush. I don't know if it's just the rubbing of
elbows with people from all over the world doing my job, or the
actual gathering of information that I've discovered I can do with
the best of them.
What I do know is that these stories will go on, for however long
we choose to cover them. The people who died in that building
affected so many in this state, that the stories of those who live on
-- the families, the rescuers, those who weren't lucky enough to find
survivors in the Murrah, and everyone else who was in Oklahoma this
terrible week -- the stories will go on.
For as long as, god help us, we want them.
Somehow, I managed to wake up at 8 a.m. after having gone to bed
at 3. I needed to make it to Film and Video studies because it was
our final film evaluation and it was over two classes, so I had to be
I made it a bit late, and the instructor was talking about TV
coverage. He mentioned a few of the incidents that were already
notorious -- the guy who'd dressed up in a doctor's outfit to get
closer to the scene. Others who'd posed as rescue workers.
Michelle stuck up for journalism by saying that she'd been there
off and on since Day 1 and that most of the journalists had been
wonderful. I don't know if anyone bought it -- most people in the
class know we work for The Daily, but we still felt better, I think.
We watched The Thin Blue Line. Very interesting. I almost dozed
through the last few minutes, but somehow made it.
Michelle, Matt and I talked a bit after class, mostly about how we
were going to catch up on our classes now that things were settling
down a bit. I was doing pretty well considering I'd missed about a
week straight. The only make-up I'd have to do was for Modern
American Women, and I could write a paper for that. No big effort.
Matt and I went to the newsroom. Joy asked if I was going
downtown. I assured her I would as soon as my second class - Human
Resource Management, ended around noon.
I went to class with Matt and kept falling asleep. It was really
interesting too -- all about how unions have little competition
because of special rules set up by the AFL-CIO to keep unions from
stealing each other's members.
Class ended and I went downstairs. Tiffany and I made a trip to
Ellison Hall to get Chic Fil 'A. We chatted about different things,
don't remember exactly what, and I ordered nuggets, waffle fries
(tip: never let them get cold) and a huge lemonade.
While Tiffany was ordering, I went upstairs to Kim Hefty's office.
Kim is the new UOSA (Student Association) president. I was curious
as to what her office looked like now that she'd had time to move in.
It was all very tasteful. Ivy hung from a set of shelves. Lots of
pictures of Kim with other people. A line of photos of the four
previous UOSA Presidents who'd happened to be women.
Kim waved me in, but she was busy on the phone. I had a seat on
one of her two couches and waited for Tiff to come in. Kim took a
pause from her phone conversation to tell us she was working on
getting a grant that would allow her to take a trip to Israel in the
summer. When she got back on the phone and Tiffany got there, we
decided to leave. We waved bye bye and left for the newsroom.
No real point to that anecdote, sorry. Just really liked Kim's
At the newsroom, I started to work on forwarding parts of my
stories to different people who'd emailed requesting them, including
the woman from Kansas working on a text book.
I was doing things like this and trying to make sure my web site
was up and running okay. I was eating too. By the time Joy arrived,
it was past 1 p.m. She asked what the hell I was still doing there.
She'd just gotten out of class and I had hesitated leaving mostly
because I was unsure why I was going downtown. I needed an angle or
something to work on and I was unsure on whether I was taking a photo
buddy. Joy told me just to keep an ear out on what was going on and
to be at the 3 p.m. daily press conference.
I tried to get a hold of Larry Medina, the Air National Guard
person who was also director of OU Hispanic-American Student
Association. This time, I got his wife at home. She was wonderful
and asked for my phone and pager numbers. She said she'd have him
call me soon. I was thrilled.
Joy was giving me her look again, so I figured it was time to
leave in a hurry. I packed my things, including some note pads and a
new pen I'd bought at the bookstore on the way to Chic Fil 'A. I
found out through the day that these small notebooks (I usually use a
huge, loose-leaf-sized spiral. Not very professional looking and very
bulky, but at least you don't have to turn pages as often) are
wonderfully handy and pay for themselves as such. I also bought
the PEN OF THE GODS which, hours later, I'm still excited about.
It's a Pilot Precise Rolling Ball (Fine) in blue ink. HIGHLY
recommended. The damn thing writes well at every angle, upside down,
whatever. Helpful if you're ever covering a story in a mine shaft.
I couldn't quite remember how to get downtown. I mean, I always
just rely on the general direction and just kind of home in based on
where the buildings are. I knew to get off the highway on Lincoln and
take a left on 10th. After that, I usually just wing it and
sometimes get lucky enough to park close to the press area.
Today I made it right by the press area, but found no parking, so
I had to circle around a bit.
I scurried to the scene. It was already about 2:30. I was really
worried I was going to miss the 3 p.m. press conference.
As I came in through the west (?) press entrance, I noticed LOTS
of horse manure everywhere. It was like a mine field. I was careful
where I stepped, trying too to avoid the stench. The mounted police
had left us a few gifts in Press Town.
I got to the phone booths and in that area spotted Bill Loving, my
old Writing for Mass Media and (he tells me) my future Mass Comm Law
He and I have this mutual parasite thing going -- I usually do an
incredibly annoying impression of him, sometimes in his presence and,
in exchange, he calls on my in every class and uses me for all his
legal discussion examples.. I'll use his expression, "Don't let
people give you.. the RUBBER CHICKEN," (in reference to not taking
sources' word for it) and he'll use me in situations like, "Say I
call Omar a 'virgin,'" or "Say I write 'Omar has some loathsome
disease.'" It's a fun arrangement, I think.
One of the best moments of my life was when I dressed up as Loving
for last year's Halloween party -- I went all out -- bald cap, spirit
gum goatee, glasses, black vest on white shirt and Indiana Jones hat.
I won the costume party. I'm not sure if he knows that.
Anyway, his humor, knowledge and rapier wit have always made him
one of my favorite people to just BS with around the newsroom. I
wondered what he was doing in Press Town.
What was amazing was that Loving was being interviewed by ABC TV,
I think it was. They were asking him legal questions about what
would happen to the suspects and how they would be tried. Since
Loving's area is Mass Comm Law, I didn't see how this pertained to
him. Maybe they figured since he's a lawyer he'd do.
I remembered the time I had asked why he was so dressed up. "Is
there an ambulance around here I don't know about?"
He was interviewed for a long time. They were grilling him, I
supposed. About that time I ran into Diane Plumberg, who works for
The Daily Oklahoman.
About Diane -- she's a tough and incredibly persistent reporter.
Her idols are Woodward and Bernstein and I think her dream is to work
at The Washington Post. She's the kind of reporter who always
manages to find a way to get into places others don't.
I also owe her a huge debt. She hired Michelle and me as incoming
freshman when she was editor of The Oklahoma Daily. It was the last
semester that general assignment reporters were paid and if it wasn't
for that salary, I may not have been around as much as I was,
treating it like an actual job, and may not have had such a bright
future at the paper.
We still talked to her occasionally. I think she was working
education or children's beat for them.
She pointed to Loving. "I think he's just blowing smoke," she
said. This was surprising from Diane. She was really close with
Loving -- I think he had been her favorite professor.
I chatted with Diane for a while. She told me she'd gotten into
the very highly secure Southwestern Bell building where the command
post was set up. She didn't get into details, but assured me that
it had been legal. Well, pretty legal. She smiled enigmatically.
I didn't press her about it.
Next to Loving was a man in long flowing black robes. He had a
long curly beard and looked very wise. I immediately thought rabbi.
it turned out he was an Orthodox father from Phoenix who was in town
to make sure the $10,000 in medical supplies his church has sent
arrived safely. I chatted with him and some local Orthodox volunteers.
They were all nice and gave me busines cards.
I went back to check with Diane and saw she was huddling with some
people. It was almost three. I went near the CNN area to wait for
the press conference.
Before the press conference, I again ran into the young lady
from The New York Times. She had one of her colleagues with her
and we were introduced. No red OU cap today.
I passed the CNN platform. Bernard Shaw was standing toward
the front smoking a cigarette. That seemed completely weird to
me. Good old Bernard Shaw, whom I'd seen a million times on CNN,
He noticed me as I was scribbling notes about his cigarette.
He probably figured I was writing about the weather or something
(very nice, mid-70s, by the way). He walked by me. "You're
going to get writer's cramp," he told me.
"Just trying to keep up," I said.
He smiled and walked on.
I did an inward WOW and went about my work.
People were already setting up for the 3 p.m. press conference.
It turned out the first person there was the mayor of Oklahoma
City. I didn't recognize him right off, but I figured it out
He said that he had taken city council members around the site
and went on about the economic loss of the area. I was learning
very soon how great my pen was. I love my pen. Truly I do. I
don't think that's illegal.
My notes were flying. The mayor talked on several subjects,
from the progress of rescue workers to the rebuilding of the
city. I asked about the MAPS project to rejuvenate downtown
Oklahoma City in much the same way that San Antonio made downtown
its economic center.
I was sure no one from out of town would know much about MAPS
and the mayor responded to the question well, going on about how
it was still on schedule to begin in a few months. There was
uncertainty on whether the Alfred Murrah building would be rebuilt
or torn down to make a memorial. The mayor said ultimately, that
decision would be made by the feds.
After a few more questions, the mayor stepped away, to meet
with assistant fire chief Jon Hansen.
A firefighter was standing around as reporters waited to hear
the official word from Hansen. Another firefighter answered a
few questions like where the two bodies found today were located
in the building. The people from the Times were trying to get a
distinction between areas called The Pit and The Pile.
She told us the two bodies found were not children.
Hansen, the mayor and some others were standing a few feet
from the police line when I noticed a few local reporters were
going over there. One of them was Diane.
I stood helpless at the police line. I asked the firefighter
if it was just local media over there. She said yes. I started
to cross the police line, but she told me I couldn't. I fretted.
Another reporter came up beside me. I didn't notice her AP
hat right away. And here my troubles began.
I don't know what it was. I guess she just came off as rude
to me. She said, "How the fuck did they get over there?"
There were maybe two TV people and two print reporters.
I sighed. "They're local," I said.
"Well I'M local!" she said.
"Oh really? Who are you with?"
"AP," she said.
She was really fuming. A few seconds later, she said, "They
have just been screwing us all along," she said.
I don't know why I said it, but I did. Maybe I was feeling
brave. Mostly, I think it was just stupidity.
I said, "Oh, you mean like you guys have been screwing us?"
The conversation degenerated from there. I brought up, none
too gently, the fight The Daily had been having with AP about
getting an educational discount like other college papers our
She said, "But you're full AP members!"
I said, "But we can't vote."
"That doesn't matter! You get special services."
I told her we didn't get any special services that other
colleges with the discount didn't. I added that we were still
on slow-speed wire.
She hemmed and hawed and we went round and round like this
for a few minutes until I noticed another press gathering was
starting, so I walked off.
A disaster assistance coordinator spoke next. I'd lost my
place near the front of the press crowd, so I had to go around
the side and crouch next to Diane while the TV people asked
phenomenally stupid questions.
Although I was pretty far off to the side, I did manage to
sneak in a question -- I asked about how rescue workers were
being protected against bacteria spread by decomposing bodies
within the building.
I found out, from what he said and notes Rudolf had taken
before, that rescuers are layering their gear, using gloves, air
filters and other equipment.
The guy said heat was becoming a factor because it was speeding
up the decomposition process.
A lot of the discussion was about how bodies were being ID'd.
A press conference was scheduled at 4 p.m. in the 1st
Christian Church which was about a five minute drive away. It
was about 20 till.
I found this out from Joy -- I hadn't been to the church yet
and wasn't even sure where it was. I told her about my fight
with AP. She was mildly amused, but then neither of us knew
what would happen when I got back to the newsroom.
I went to the church and sat through a press conference that
included Red Cross officials, and most importantly, the medical
examiner spokesperson. There were lots of questions for him --
about how the bodies were ID'd, what kind of methods were being
used, how many bodies had been identified, and other things.
He made an announcement that a TV station had been falsely
reporting that a person had been identified. He chastised the
station. "Shame on them," he said.
He commended the rest of the press for being very cooperative.
He told us the death count was officially 86, with 74 identified.
Of those, 13 children, all identified.
A reporter asked what methods were being used to identify
the bodies. "Did you just get into town?" he asked her. I
really liked this guy.
I asked some more questions about equipment and the chances
of bacteria playing a role in how bodies were handled.
The press conference ended soon with another scheduled for
10 a.m. the next morning.
On the way out, I got copies of press released, including
a printed list of all known dead. I stared at it for a few
seconds.. So many names. I took a very deep breath.
The pool reporter for AP who'd been inside the church where
the families waited for news on those missing offered me info.
I almost felt bad about the argument I'd had with the other
AP person. This woman was very nice and helpful. She had to
share the information -- as a press representative she was
require to share her pool of information with other reporters,
but she was more than helpful, offering to check on things for
us and call us back with the correct information.
She gave a harrowing description of the shelter. How
medical examiners are debriefed or "diffused" as they call it
and are required to be counseled every day or they can't work.
She described the notification process. There is a room
called the identification room where a guard is posted. A fax
machine on a secured line receives word about those confirmed
They check to see that the family is in the building -- they
always have a list of who is in the facility at any given time.
A volunteer approaches the family. They say, exactly, "We
have some information for you."
Two medical examiner representatives, a clergy member and
a mental health professional are all there to meet the family
in a quiet room upstairs. A medical examiner speaks.
"Your loved one has been found dead."
That simple. That terrible.
Usually, they are asked if they are sure. They have to tell
the families they are.
The AP reporter told me one of the site coordinators notified
the first two families. He broke down both times trying to get
those words of news out.
I thanked the AP reporter and headed back to town. I had
passed school yard with lots of children playing near Press
Town, but when I drove back that way, it was empty. So many
children had been playing here. All were gone. I thought
about the day care center, which rescue workers would probably
reach in their digging within the next day or two.
My hands shook at the steering wheel.
I was running late for deadline. By the time I got back to
Norman, with traffic backed up on the highway, it was about 20
minutes to deadline.
As soon as I walked in, Joy asked me to go outside. I
followed her. "What did you say to AP?"
"Well, we just argued about the education discount."
"They called Jack and they called David Dary," she said.
I wheezed. I felt as if I'd been punched in the gut. Worse.
Jack, of course, is our wonderful advisor, for whom I would rather
have bamboo stalks inserted under my fingernails than see have
a hard time with people because of me.
David Dary is another matter: he's the director of the journalism
"They completely reamed Jack. They're pissed."
Joy talked with me a bit more about it. I apologized for
letting my mouth run off. "This is the kind of thing that makes
us look like college students in their eyes," she said. Ashamed,
I had to agree.
I sat down and started transcribing. Rudolf was working on
a story about construction, so I was to give him some of the
quotes I'd gathered from the mayor about the MAPS project and
My story would be a general overview of the day's events,
including stuff about the ID process and some numbers including
the death toll.
Mas'ood was still working to coordinate his Wednesday rally.
I had a message from Larry Medina with his pager number and
cell phone number. I called the cell number and was surprised
to get him. He amazed me.
He said he would be willing to have one of his photographers
take one of our cameras with film and take photos inside the
building. He wasn't sure about taking me close to the sight,
but he said he would meet with me to chat tomorrow and we
might work out something.
One thing that interested me was that he was planning to
invite OU President David Boren to come to the site. I would
call his press secretary to see if I could tag along later.
I agreed to call Larry from downtown tomorrow to meet.
I spoke to Josh Galper, Boren's press secretary. "Hi...
This is Josh," he said.
Josh has this amazingly smooth way of saying that. It just
rolls out in one stream, with four syllables and then some.
I asked about arrangements and he said it was the first he'd
heard of it, but that if something was planned he would keep
in contact with me. He was worried that Boren would look like
a politician trying to get attention, which, because Boren is such
an incredibly great guy, isn't the case at all. Boren was really the
last thing on my mind. I was excited about getting us close to the
building. I told Josh we could Boren being there wasn't really
the story. We were more interested in being there to see what
we could see.
It turned out that President Boren had a previous engagement
and, wisely, had decided he didn't want to get in the way of
workers. I had to admire that.
I continued writing till almost 8 p.m. By that time, I had
fleshed out about 15 inches of general news about the situation
downtown. Tiffany read it and we kept saying to each other,
"Hi... this is Josh..." and cackling hysterically.
Before he left, Jack came by my desk. I averted my eyes
way low. I felt awful about the whole AP thing. Jack, like he
he always does, said some comforting words that kept me from
feeling like it was the end of the world. I kept my eyes on my
shoes, but felt better.
I saw there was little copy editing to do, so I went home
after checking out the web page to see if things were still
Greg in the backshop told me he'd gotten a phone call from
The Edmond Evening Sun, I think complimenting us on our web
site. He found out they'd been up since Thursday. They had
changed their header message. Where it had read, "The first
WWW news service in Oklahoma," it now read, "The first WWW
news service in Edmond." Yes, a good prank call can be an
I left for the night about 9:30 with an evening of editing,
converting files, mass emailing and writing to do. It's 3
a.m. and I'm about done.
Copyright ©1995-2001 by Omar L. Gallaga