The 19th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Murrah Building bombing is fast approaching.
Handsome’s parents Harvey and Judy Wreath were both first responders to this tragedy,
and over these past several days Harvey has been gracious to sit and discuss with me
more of his memories and details from those weeks, many of which I had never heard before.
He also visited the Memorial Museum with Handsome and me,
which was a such a memorable experience.
Internalizing all of this history has made me want to run the marathon even more.
Following is the first in a series of three installments telling his and Judy’s story.
A DAY LIKE ANY OTHER
Early on the morning of April 19, 1995, Harvey was already hard at work at his auto body shop in Moore, about half an hour south of downtown Oklahoma City. The weather was calm and warm, the skies bright. Absorbed in repairing the fender, door, and front bumper of a Chevrolet pick up, Harvey heard an unbelievable boom then felt heavy vibrations. He knew immediately it was a significant explosion and wondered if it could be an oil tank. He stepped outside and saw dark, heavy smoke gulping into the blue Oklahoma sky.
Several minutes later, at 9:15 a.m., Harvey’s police receiver reported a large explosion at the Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The operator was requesting all officers for help. They were bracing for the possibility of something more. No one seemed to know what was happening.
At this time, in addition to running his auto body shop, Harvey was Police Chief of the town of Hallpark, Oklahoma. His wife Judy was his right arm in every part of life and also served as his police Sergeant. On duty that April morning, Judy heard the same radio calls for help and immediately brought her husband his police uniform. Together they drove in their township’s only patrol car north to Oklahoma City. They prayed together every mile of that drive and in minutes arrived at the gaping, shredded building now veiled in angry black smoke.
CHAOS & FIRST RESPONDERS, DAY ONE
By now Harvey knew it was something far worse than any gas explosion. Upon seeing the enormous wound on the front of the familiar building, he knew without a doubt that it had been a bomb. Harvey and Judy heard layers of horrified screams. They knew people were still trapped. The scene was absolute chaos.
On the north side of the block, Harvey and Judy found a gathering of police cars and, in uniform themselves, rushed to offer their help. Their first task was to keep people away from the building, but crowd control on this morning was far from easy. The people trying to get through the barrier were not yet spectators or tabloid photographers; they were downtown office workers searching for colleagues, friends, and spouses. They were parents and grandparents frantic to lay trembling hands on their babies who had just been dropped off at daycare in the building now laid to waste. Their job of crowd control was made increasingly difficult by the thick, gagging smoke and then by subsequent bomb scares. There was so much screaming.
By evening, the area at Sixth Street was crawling with military personnel, law enforcement, and scores of heavy equipment operators. Martial Law had been enacted but so far was a formality because everyone was already working together. Somewhere deep in the belly of this horrible scene, this fallout of evil not yet understood, a seed of hope was already germinating. Oklahoma was already responding to trauma with intense love and unflinching willingness to reach out, to work together.
True to form for springtime in Oklahoma, heavy thunderstorms rolled in around 8:30 p.m. The weather did not slow the rescue efforts. By 10:40 p.m. every survivor had been brought out of the cruel debris.
Harvey and Judy stayed on site until 9 p.m. that first night then drove home, stunned and exhausted. They had planned to return to the same job the next morning, but at 11 p.m. a phone call came from their friends at the Medical Examiner’s Office. Harvey and Judy were being asked to join a team of people to work in the temporary morgue. Additionally, Harvey was needed as head of Security for the team. They said yes without hesitation, just as they had done fourteen hours earlier.
Neither of them slept well that night. They rose the next morning at 7 a.m. and reported for sixteen hours of unprecedented work and sacrifice, the first of nineteen consecutive days that would change them forever.
Thank you for reading!
Harvey appreciates you reading, too,
and gaining a deeper understanding
of what Oklahoma experienced that April.
Please continue to check in for more installments.