OKLAHOMA CITY - Several of the memorial trees planted for the victims of the Murrah bombing at the Capitol were cut down this week after a gas leak was discovered.
The grove of Linden trees was donated by the state of Iowa in 1995, one for each bombing victim. They've been growing in their spot on the north side of the Capitol building since then. Buried in the center of the grove in a casket are the unidentified remains of the lives lost in the horrific tragedy.
But troubles with the site started last week when the Corporation Commission learned there was a gas leak in the well below the trees.
"It is a really dangerous situation," said Shelley Zumwalt, the director of public affairs for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services which manages the site and the state buildings surrounding it.
The levels of toxic gas were deemed so dangerous that on Friday they were forced to evacuate the Tax Commission building.
The well is privately owned and has been in that spot since 1968. The owners of the well were able to provide a quick fix to the gas leak, but the entire well must be removed completely.
Along with it, many of the symbolic trees had to be cut down, in order to make room for the equipment and access to the well.
"It`s a tough situation, and no one wanted to remove the trees," Zumwalt said, "but unfortunately for the safety of the situation it was determined that they did have to be removed."
The mess comes just a month before the 24th anniversary of the bombing.
"There`s probably going to be a few tears shed from some of the family," said bombing survivor Florence Rogers. "This is the time of the year on just such a day as we've had today that the memories really come flooding back."
Zumwalt said the state is working with the National Bombing Memorial to determine the best way to get the grove back to what it once was, though no plan has been decided on yet.
"Make sure this area is restored in the way that is respectful to the families and the victims of the bombing," Zumwalt said.
She added that no other well will replace the one being removed.
News 4 received the following statement from The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum:
“We were surprised to learn from a local TV station that trees were being cut down. We have reached out to the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and asked for a meeting immediately to resolve the issue but are also being told it was a hazardous gas leak and they had to move on it immediately. We will work with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services to ensure the trees are properly put back and the Iowa Tree Grove is restored.”