“We had nothing left” – Bombing survivors remember rebuilding after tragedy

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Forty-eight hours, 18 minutes after the blast on Friday April 21, the Federal Employees Credit Union reopened inside a borrowed space on loan from competitor, Tinker Federal Credit Union.

“I have nothing,” said former CEP, Florence Rogers on April 21, 1995. “We have nothing left.”

A handful of employees went back to work right away, including Rogers, who’d crawled out of her third floor window unscathed.

Rogers had been in the middle of a management meeting with eight of her employees.

They had been sitting inches away from each other. Everyone in the room died in the blast, except Rogers.

She remembers Claudette Meek saying a few moments before, “Look at all of us. We look like a basket of easter eggs, don’t we.”

Florence said, “I knew exactly what every one of those girls was wearing that was in the office with me. It prompted me to look at each one of them and what they were wearing that day. So, I was able to tell each one of their family members, before their bodies were found, what they were wearing that day. That became very important.”

Receptionist, Terri Talley, had been covering someone else’s desk at 9:02.

“There were ladies who were right beside me. They didn’t make it out,” Talley said.

Ten made it out of the credit union office alive.

Terri was trapped two hours in the rubble.

She was wedged between slabs of concrete within earshot of her co-worker Amy Downs.

“When I was stuck down there, she was the one who gave me hope. When I was stuck in the rubble, she was screaming. I couldn’t scream.”

Both Talley and Downs were taken to University Hospital where a nurse rolled their hospital beds into the same room so they could hold hands.

“What do you say to someone when you’ve lost so much? We just held hands.”

They’ve logged another 25 years in that friendship since.

Rogers lost one of her very best friends on April 19, director of marketing Valerie Koelsch.

“When the babies would come out on the playground, she would come into my office and she’d say, ‘Put that away. We’ve got to watch the babies.’ And I’d say, ‘Val. I’m busy. I’m working.’ She’d say, ‘Oh no. It’s not that important.’ We always had to watch the babies every day.”

Rogers retired from the credit union 27 months after the bombing.

She served on a survivor committee at the OKC Memorial and Museum.

Over the years, she has been keeping journals about her lost coworkers and their 128 years of service under her wing.

She tried to attend all 18 funerals, plus the funeral services of the 100 other victims who were members of the credit union.

“I had to pick and choose. Do I go to this one? Or that one?” Rogers remembered there were so many services, some were scheduled at the same time.

Her grief has been spread thin over two decades. It was too much to process all at once.

“The horrible loss of those families. They will never see their children grow up, grandbabies and all of that. It’s pretty hard to think about.”

Many of the survivors have stayed at the credit union; connections forged in trauma are hard to break.

“We clung together, and we still are. We’re all bonded.”

Talley is still on the job working with her friend, Amy Downs who is now the CEO.

Talley is now happily married and raising a stray border collie named “Rowdy” who she named after her most devoted rescuer, Rowdy Baxter, a retired firefighter who refused to leave her alone in the Murrah Building even though his own life was at risk.

“He is the reason I’m here. His persistence. He wouldn’t give up. He passed me up, but he came back. He wouldn’t leave during a bomb threat,” Terri said.

Survivor guilt is common among those who made it out.

“Sometimes it seems like yesterday. I think about my co-workers, and I think about little things about them. Sometimes it seems like forever. I haven’t seen them in so long.”

Robin Huff was seven months pregnant when she was killed in the bombing.

Her baby would be turning 25 years old this year.

There are few people who understand the slow simmering sorrow that bubbles to the surface every April for survivors of the bombing.

“I am so lucky to be here. I don’t take life for granted for a second. I know how precious it is. I really do.”

For 25 years the sun has set on a city softened by grief, resilient with grace.

This is a community defined not by the horror of hate, but by the strength and beauty that rose from the ashes.

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