OKLAHOMA CITY — At 9:03 a.m. Monday, 168 seconds of silence filled the air at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial, honoring the 168 lives lost in the bombing 26 years ago to the day.
Making the trip to honor those 168 lives lost was United States Attorney General Merrick Garland, who played an integral role in investigating the attack and prosecuting the perpetrators.
“26 years ago, I was sitting in my office at the Department of Justice in Washington, when an ‘Urgent Report’ from the Oklahoma City U.S. Attorney’s Office came through,” Garland said in his speech. “It was soon followed by a second “Urgent Report,” and then a third. There had been an explosion at the Murrah building.”
Garland would touch down in Oklahoma and make his way to the site of the explosion no more than 48 hours later. What he saw was burned in his mind, he said.
“At the time, we did not know exactly how many people had died. But we did know that the children’s center, which had been at the front of the building, was gone,” said Garland, choking up. “Then and there, we made a vow. We promised that we would find the perpetrators, that we would bring them to justice, and that we would do so in a way that honored the Constitution.”
Monday in Oklahoma City was Garland’s first public appearance outside of D.C since becoming attorney general, a testament to how much this place and memorial means to him, his spokesperson said.
“He wouldn’t have it any other way,” Department of Justice spokesperson Anthony Colely said.
As the FBI named domestic extremism a “heightened threat” just last month, Garland emphasized the work the DOJ will do to put an end to the ever-growing threat so events like April 19, 1995 don’t happen again.
“This memorial is a monument to a community that will not allow hate and division to win,” Garland said. “…We must all stand together against them – for the safety of our communities, and for the good of our country.”
Garland isn’t the only one with the events of April 19 engraved forever in his mind.
“I worked in this building. I was on my way downtown to work when I saw the black smoke. I thought it was a tire shop on Shields Boulevard that had caught fire, until I turned the radio on in the car, and that's when I found out it was this building,” Jenny Parsley said.
Parsley worked on the eighth floor of the federal building in the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“I had assumed that everybody had gotten out, I was totally shocked when I got down here,” she said. “... I couldn’t believe it, I was in total shock and disbelief.”
The act of terrorism wasn’t just felt in Oklahoma City — its effects rippled across the state and the country.
“There's just a few things in your life where you remember exactly where you were when it happened — this is one of them for us,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said. “...It's so important that we honor the 168 that [we] lost, and also it's just a lesson for all of us to stand up against violence and hatred.”
Calling the attack a “senseless act of terror,” U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., remembered and honored the lives that were lost at the hands of evil Monday.
“As we pause today to remember those taken, we also grieve with the many families and loved ones left behind,” Cole said in a statement. “I vividly remember that day, and although it was tragic, I was extremely proud of the outpouring of heroism and support from every first responder, government official and bystander who worked together in rescue and recovery for the hours and days afterward. Indeed, communities across the state, through their outpouring of support, set the Oklahoma Standard.”
Freshman Rep. Stephanie Bice, R,Okla., whose district encompasses the memorial, said she clearly remembers the day, as her now-husband worked just a couple blocks away from the federal building.
“I was still in college and saw the news and immediately came home,” Bice said. “I just couldn't believe what I was seeing.”
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt spoke Monday to the underlying issue that spurred the bombing: The unchecked spread of lies and hate.
“Will we passively let others speak dangerous untruths because it is uncomfortable to face them? Or will we look to the scar in our downtown and find the will to actively speak love and truth?” Holt asked during his speech. “We have closed roads, we have created fertilizer registries, we have prosecuted domestic terrorists, and we should do those things, but that is what is necessary when our first line of defense has failed. And that first line of defense is love and truth.”
In his closing remarks, Garland ended with a quote from Kari Watkins, the executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum.
“On this sacred ground, we [must] work to find common ground,” Garland said. “Oklahoma City, you are always in my heart.”