When you think of April 19th, 1995 – you are reminded of the horror that morning in Oklahoma City. You remember the brutal images of The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building itself, the dust and the smoke rising out of downtown. We’ll never forget the images of the people and the aftermath during the 24/7 rescue and recovery efforts. The day is forever etched in American History. It is a day that broke our hearts as a country, a state and a city. For some however, it is much more personal than that.
So, what was it like to be in the building on April 19th, 1995 at 9:02am? What was it like in the moments afterwards? And how do you recover and move forward after seeing so much hatred, so many killed and so many more lives changed forever? Or do you?
Sheila (Schick) Kidder knows. Yes, runhers ladies, the woman who has tirelessly worked to get water out on the training runs and cheer you on as you train for this weekend’s OKC Memorial Marathon is, in fact, a bombing survivor. As an employee of the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which lost more people than any other agency in the blast, she knows firsthand the impact of what occurred that horrible day. Sheila is a quiet hero, a beacon of hope for anyone who looking to survive and move ahead, despite great tragedy. When the Norway bombing and massacre occurred in July, 2011, the Norwegian press was looking for answers, reason and hope in the wake of their tragedy, they turned to Sheila and OKC to look for perspective.
So nearly 17 years after that day, we sit down and ask Sheila a few questions.
runhers: So, what was it like the morning of April 19th, 1995? What were you doing and where were you?
Sheila: It started out a beautiful morning. Got to work at 7 am instead of my usual 9 am due to workload and, at 9:02, I was in what we referred to as “room 9-11” starting a class on how to use Windows. I was on the 9th floor about 8 feet from where the floor fell away. The room went dark, we felt the floor lift then settle. Things started falling, noises were coming from everywhere from things falling and crashing. I was pushed under the table where my computer sat by the chalkboard that had been attached to the wall behind me. It rested on the back of my chair and the computer. I was safe, unharmed lying on the floor under the table. Then the lights came back on. Not the “real” ones, but the sun shone through the building where the walls and ceiling used to be. I had to crawl a little, then climb a little, finally making it to the stairwell. Thankfully the stairs were in the back of the building and everyone was evacuating in a very orderly manner as best they could. Everyone was covered in dirt, dust, and fiberglass from the ceiling. The air was full of debris and breathing seemed hard. I had on a very long skirt that day and pulled the hemline to my face to breathe through. I looked down and was mortified that my slip was showing, then decided that no one would probably even notice! We exited the stairway onto the plaza. People were everywhere, going all directions. I found a group of my co-workers and we started a list of who we knew was there that day and who was not, who we had seen and knew was okay. A make-shift triage was forming on the plaza by 4th street and I saw a co-worker, Mike, strapped to a backboard and went to him. He asked if I had seen his father, who worked in our office also. I told him I had not but would go look. His father didn’t survive. I went with Mike to the hospital in a bus that they had taken the seats out of. It was when I got to the hospital that I finally called my father’s office and was told he was looking for me at the building and that my mother had gone to my grandparents. I had them call and tell her where I was and they sent a driver to look for my father. They met me at the hospital.
runhers: What happened in the minutes and hours after you realized the scope of what happened? Or did that take a while?
Sheila: We were too close to the epi-center to actually hear the detonation of the bomb. Most of us thought there had been a gas explosion. We evacuated the building 3-4 times a year for gas leaks. I knew it was bad, but just how bad we couldn’t fathom. It wasn’t until about noon that I understood how horrific the damage was and for it to start sinking in. That was when I went to St. Anthony’s looking for missing workmates and tried to identify a body for them. After that is when I got my first look at the front of the building from atop the hill on 5th Street. Looking over the destruction and remembering the body I just tried to identify is when it really started to hit home just how lucky I was and how tired my guardian angels must be.
runhers: What was it like in the days following the bombing?
Sheila: It was a little numbing. However, I still had my life to live and was determined to do just that. I had to start test driving cars (mine was destroyed in the explosion) and I was taking a computer programming class for “fun.” I even went to class that evening after the bombing, still in the same clothes and with debris from the Murrah Building in my hair. April 19, 1995, was on a Wednesday. That Friday, I had a semi-load of computers, etc. show up and I had to start helping set-up temporary office space and get our key functions back on-line. Then, in couple of weeks, we started reconstructing our office space in the Montgomery Building. Our employees were off for 3 months while we worked to rebuild their work environment and get things in place for their return. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t work all day, every day, but I was there most of the days, most of the time.
runhers: As the years went by, the OKC Memorial and Museum was constructed and the new Federal Building was built right across the street, what did you think about all that?
Sheila: I believe the memorial grounds is truly a beautiful commemoration to the victims of that tragic day. It is a place of reverence and reflection, I believe; showing great respect to the victims and hopefully is a very calming place for their families. The museum itself is awesome. The designers put great thought into the exhibits and it shows the human side of the event. I am looking forward to taking my kids there in the future when the youngest is just a little older, so we can experience it together and they can ask questions and understand the impact of that day and the broader perspective of the affect it had on people, our city and country. As for the new federal building, it is definitely secure and built to withstand huge forces. I am glad it was constructed across the street. It shows commitment to our department’s mission and our fortitude for moving on and standing up against terrorism in any form.
runhers:The OKC Memorial Marathon is a dedicated to all those affected and designed to bring the city and runners from all over together to honor those lost, those who survived and those changed forever. Thoughts?
Sheila: I believe the marathon is a wonderful way for OKC to show the world what an awesome place this is and what kind of people live here. The “Oklahoma Standard” is something that all cities, states, and nations, should strive toward. We are a community of caring individuals that came together to help our neighbors in time of need. It gives those that weren’t there that day a chance to see our city, our memorial, our people and honor those that lost their lives. I do believe that the world changed after April 19th, 1995 – and we can never forget.
runhers: You’ve never labeled yourself a ‘victim’ and you have an incredible view and perspective on all that took place. You mentioned it even took the Norwegian press off guard. What message can we take away from your experience on dealing with such great tragedy like this?
Sheila: It is not what happens to us, it is how we choose to deal with it. We wake up every morning and choose how we will live each and every day. We have choices. We decide what defines us and makes us who we are. Everyone must decide what their own identity is, or what they want it to be, and make the changes and plans needed to get there. I choose my identity to be a mother, a wife, a runner, a community volunteer, etc. I choose to live my life to the fullest. I choose to honor those that are no longer with us by refusing the terrorist another victim. I also choose to honor those still with me, my family and friends, by telling them I love them and being the person they need me to be. They have hopes and dreams to fulfill and I plan on helping them achieve each and every one.
runhers: Finally, what message do you want to pass on to all the runhers women and others who will be running Sunday’s 12th Annual Memorial Marathon?
Sheila: This race isn’t really about the finish line. It is about the journey you decided to take to get to the start line and your own personal reasons for making that decision. Don’t get me wrong, the finish line is awesome to cross, but please make sure you enjoy the journey. You are doing something that 168 people will never get to do. Whether you are running/walking the OKC Memorial Marathon to honor the victims of that day and their families, or because you decided you wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, or just to say you ran/walked the whole marathon, half or 5K, you need to make sure you take in all this great city has to offer and the reason why this race was started … to help you find your courage, strength, tenacity, will, and desire for life. This is your race and your goal – do it your way and enjoy it!
runhers: Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives Sheila. You are truly a living inspiration and we are blessed to know you.