The Oklahoma Tragedy, 10 Years Later
Amy Petty remembers hearing an incredible roaring noise, then her own voice screaming out. The credit union where she was a credit card loan officer had suddenly gone dark and was collapsing around her.
"I didn't even have time to process what was happening," Petty said. "I could hear other people screaming, and I was screaming myself."
A decade since the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, Petty, now VP of Operations at Allegiance CU (formerly Federal Employees CU) still feels the pain, the loss and the fear of that dreadful morning when she fell three floors and was buried beneath rubble for six hours.
"There was this tremendous roar and everything went black," she said describing the explosion that occurred at 9:02 .a.m., April 19, 1995. Her third-story office faced the north side, the glass windows were directly above the parked Ryder truck that terrorist Timothy McVeigh had rented and filled with explosives.
Petty was among many who were blown from her work station when the walls and floor beneath her shattered. Lying beneath rubble in what she later learned was the building's first floor, Petty was surrounded by fellow employees- "Unfortunately, no one alive," she said. "It was very, very difficult to breathe. I remember trying to figure out if I was dead or alive."
Petty's story was among the many recounted last week in ceremonies across Oklahoma City that paid tribute to victims, families and rescue teams of the massive explosion that sheared off the entire north side of the federal building that housed federal agencies, the credit union, a daycare center and other businesses.
Petty, who was interviewed by the Today show's Katie Couric twice before, was also among those interviewed as part of the program's 10-year anniversary segment. "They sent a producer out (in late March) to interview me here," she said. "Then they showed the clips as Katie Couric narrated."
To be honest, Petty said, she wasn't even sure the segment aired. Her week was filled with ceremonies, events and a public speaking engagement with some sixth graders.
"About a year ago, I started sharing my story," she said. "Ever since 9/11, more Americans are going through things that we've never gone through before. I just know how much help it would have been for me to have someone to talk to back then."
Petty said her message is to let people know that despite horrible tragedy, "there is hope. I'm OK and I want people to see that. It's not what happens to you, it's how you react to it."
Petty said Couric did conduct phone interviews with her, first from her hospital bed shortly after the bombing and again on the morning of McVeigh's execution on June 11, 2001. She said she had also been interviewed by "Good Morning America" staff.
Stories Shared On CU's Website
On Allegiance CU's website, Petty and two other employees shared touching stories about how the events of that day changed them and made them stronger people. The tribute at www.allegiancecu.org was created by in-house staff.
"Everything around this 10-year mark has been focused on hope and recovery," Petty said. "It's better when you can come together. It's filled with sadness but there's also some happiness."
While she "hated" the reason for the events, Petty said a lot of friendships were formed.
She said she was especially moved by CU leaders from across the country that extended their hands and hearts to help wherever they could. "Along with everything else, there is a powerful story here about credit unions coming together," Petty said. "I hope that despite the changes within the industry including community charters, we keep that unity."
She said the support allowed the CU to reopen "48 hours and 18 minutes" after the bombing" inside the headquarters of Tinker Credit Union. Admittedly, little work was accomplished for the next few weeks as members poured in and cried as they saw the employees who survived.
"They were running up, crying and saying, 'Oh my gosh, you're OK, "' said employee Lisa Keller, who learned of the bombing on the morning news. "When I got up I saw the footage from all the channels and at that point they didn't even know what building it was yet," Keller said on the recorded website tribute. "Yet I knew just from looking that that was my building."
A decade later, Keller said she would love to be able to walk into the old CU office and see those "orange Formica countertops that we all hated so much" and all the employees that made the credit union one big family.
Ellen Young, also a survivor, recalls typing some notes on her PC when the lights went out. She spent much of the day "in and out of consciousness" but recalled being in a dark and dusty place before "a gentleman picked me up and carried me out of there." She said she couldn't recall anything that happened after the lights went out. "I was just so glad that I was alive," she said on the website tribute.
Recalling A Surreal Scene
Petty said she could recount nearly everything that happened from the moment she was buried beneath the rubble. "It did seem so surreal," she said. "But I never lost consciousness."
Lucky for her, she said, her screams were heard and after much careful planning to get her out of a "very unstable" area, she was carried out with nary a broken bone. "I had some deep lacerations and cuts all over my body and some nerve damage," she said. "I was only in the hospital for eight days."
A large portion of skin and muscle from one of her legs was missing, she said, but only the scars remain.
Perhaps the most trying moments of the 10-year anniversary were during her walk along the memorial site, where rows of chairs represented the victims of the attack. "I walked along the row that symbolized the third floor, touching each chair and thinking of each person who died," she said. "It was difficult."
Among the 18 credit union employees who died, said Petty, was a pregnant co-worker who sat beside her, a board member and several CU visitors. "There are so many facets of the trauma," she said. "There's your own trauma and the trauma that 18 of your 33 co-workers were killed ... How do you grieve for that many people?"
Among them was her manager, a woman she said mentored her and a close friend. "I remember the first day I went back into the office-about a month later," she said. "I was looking around the room and thinking, 'Who are these people?'"
The unfamiliar faces were a reminder of all those who lost their lives, she said. "I wasn't sure I wanted to work there anymore." Then she remembered her boss and the others. "I decided that this credit union wasn't dying with them," she said. " I think a lot of us felt that way and became very dedicated to keep it intact."
Of the 168 people killed who were not CU employees, Petty said that she knew at least of 100 of them either by face or name as many were CU members.
During a ceremony in a church rebuilt on a site that served as a temporary morgue 10 years ago, 1,600 people gathered to pay tribute to those affected by the bombing. Among the speakers were former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Dick Cheney, Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and former Gov. Frank Keating.
Allegiance CU displayed a fence with historical items from FECU and bombing memorabilia at two of its downtown branch locations and presented a $10,000 check to the Oklahoma City National Memorial for the Second Decade Campaign, which provides education on the impact of terrorism. The CU also sponsored a water stop on a racecourse for the Memorial Marathon 5K walk and offered to pay the entry fees for employees, survivors or family members.