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Oklahoma Bar Association

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March 2020 President's Message

Disaster Response and Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing

By Susan B. Shields

Next month marks the 25th anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing. Like most people living in Oklahoma on April 19, 1995, I remember exactly where I was when the bomb went off. I was in the tunnel underneath Robinson Avenue walking back to my office from a probate hearing at Oklahoma County District Court. Our offices were in the Bank of Oklahoma Plaza just two blocks south of the Murrah building.

The blast broke most of the floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of the 15th and 16th floors of our offices, and light fixtures and ceiling tiles came down. Other lawyers in my office were having a meeting in the large 16th floor conference room and took cover from the breaking glass under the table. Very fortunately, no one at our law firm was injured. However, our building was cordoned off inside the perimeter of the crime scene, and it was several days before I could retrieve my car from the parking garage and personal items from my office.

Over the next weeks and months after the broken windows were repaired and we were able to go back to work, our windows looked out to the north over the federal courthouse to the rescue workers and law enforcement at the site of the bombing as they searched for survivors. If I had not had a hearing that morning, I could easily have been driving by the federal building on my way to work around the time the bomb went off. I think many of us remember where we were that morning, but I don’t often talk about my personal experience because it pales in comparison to the tragedy of the 168 people who were killed and the more than 680 people who were injured, whose loss is unfathomable.

A well-known Fred Rogers’ quote about seeking comfort during disaster encourages people to “look for the helpers.” When disaster struck on April 19, 1995, the OBA’s Disaster Response and Relief Committee, almost entirely through word of mouth, assembled more than 200 volunteer lawyers in the basement of the bar center less than a week after the bombing to sign up to assist victims and their families. According to OBA records, 143 lawyers were assigned 153 cases, and attorneys donated more than 3,000 hours to help victims with legal matters such as guardianships, estates and probate, workers’ comp, personal injury, media, insurance claims and property issues. I think the OBA’s service during that time, and in response to other disasters like tornadoes and flooding, makes the OBA and its Disaster Response Committee part of the “Oklahoma Standard” that became a rallying cry for the generosity of the Oklahoma community after the Murrah bombing.

CLE SEMINAR TO REFLECT BACK ON EVENTS
Four OBA members lost their lives in the bombing: Susan Jane Ferrell, Jules Alfonso Valdez, Michael D. Weaver and Clarence Eugene Wilson Sr. To honor them and the other lives lost and forever changed by the events of April 19, the OBA CLE Department, in conjunction with OCU Law’s Murrah Center on Homeland Security Law & Policy and the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, will be having an all-day seminar on Friday, April 17, at the OCU School of Law titled “The Crime, The Trial, The Response: OBA Remembers the Oklahoma City Bombing.”

Program planners and former OBA presidents Melissa DeLacerda and Stephen Beam, along with Bob Burke as moderator, have assembled presentations by two of the FBI agents who initially investigated the crime, the sheriff who arrested Timothy McVeigh, Brian Hermanson, a current OBA Board of Governors member and defense counsel for Terry Nichols, former Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Steven Taylor who presided over the trial of Terry Nichols, and a panel that includes survivors, former Gov. Frank Keating and former Oklahoma City Fire Chief Gary Marrs.

It will be an opportunity to hear first-person accounts of the events of April 19 and the court trials and to tour the memorial and museum. Hearing about the legal aspects of the bombing and its aftermath from those who were there is an important part of the anniversary remembrance and the history of that tragic event. I hope you will attend.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with your questions, comments and suggestions at susan.shields@mcafeetaft.com or 405-552-2311.

MARCH WELLNESS TIP
Hold the coffee and drink more water. Coffee is fuel for many lawyers who work long hours, but studies have shown that drinking water may be even better at improving energy levels and mental performance, among other health benefits. While everyone has different needs, something easy to remember is to try to drink eight glasses of water a day. If that is too much, at least serve yourself a glass of water for every coffee you drink.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 91 pg. 4 (March 2020)