The Edmond Sun

Local News

April 13, 2013

OKC Survivor Tree to help Newtown heal

OKLA. CITY — A sapling from the Oklahoma City Memorial’s Survivor Tree soon will be planted in Newtown, Conn., helping the community heal.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a rental truck with explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and at 9:02 a.m., a massive explosion occurred that sheared the entire north side of the building, killing 168 men, women and children.

The Survivor Tree, which is more than 80 years old, is an American elm that survived the blast and witnessed one of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil.

On April 19, 1995, the tree was almost chopped down to recover pieces of evidence that hung from its branches due to the force of the 4,000-pound bomb detonated just yards away.

On May 23, 1995, following the investigation, which resulted in McVeigh’s execution and a life without parole sentence for Terry Nichols, what was left of the Murrah Building was demolished. Out of the rubble emerged the 3.3 acre Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, a place to honor the victims, survivors and rescue workers, and for visitors to learn the impact of violence.

On April 19, the museum will be open to all visitors for free on the 18th anniversary of the attack. A remembrance ceremony will begin at 9:02 a.m. at the memorial grounds.

In Connecticut on Dec. 14, law enforcement officials say, Adam Lanza went to Sandy Hook Elementary School where in less than 5 minutes he shot and killed 20 children ages 6-7 and six adult staff members; Lanza’s mother was also shot and killed.

Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, said the Survivor Tree, a source of hope for many Oklahomans, will export hope via the sapling to Newtown.

“They want a tree to plant on April 19,” Watkins said. “They know that tree is a symbol of hope for them. Wherever they plant it they will remember that there are people who have walked this dark path before them who have seen that good does overcome evil.”

Meanwhile, the memorial museum has created a master plan that includes adding new artifacts and stories that were not available when it was first conceived, designed and built, Watkins said.

The museum will continue to engage visitors with world-class video, exhibits and programs that humanize the story by involving those who were impacted and keeping it relevant, Watkins said. Staff will collaborate with families, survivors, rescue workers, current and past trustees and the community at large just as they did when they built the museum, Watkins said.

In May, staff will reunite law enforcement personnel who worked on the case in a focus group, Watkins said. She also wants to interview children who have seen the museum who are older now and get feedback.

“I told the staff this morning during our April meeting that we’re about to embark on the most challenging 18 months we’ve ever had,” she said. “We all feel like it’s an enormous responsibility to be the guardians of this place and we’re all honored to do it. And we feel we do it in a way that keeps the story alive and relevant in today’s world.”

The project is being funded through the 9:03 Fund Campaign, a $15 million effort that includes $5 million for capital expenses for museum enhancements and $10 million for its endowment.

Watkins, of Edmond, said staff will schedule construction around daily operations so the museum can remain open. The project is set to begin in the fall and be finished by the end of 2014, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the bombing.

Part of keeping the museum relevant means including youth-friendly technology. Watkins said most of today’s technology did not exist in 1995.

Frances Leonard, a retired teacher who taught in Edmond at Sequoyah Middle School, lost her brother Don Leonard in the bombing. He was one of eight federal agents killed that day.

Leonard, who volunteers at the museum and serves on a related education committee, said making the story relevant for today’s youth will help preserve the  story for future generations.

FOR MORE information about the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, visit www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org.

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