We Remember: Theresa Howell Shares Survivor Story

Theresa Howell is the Collections Advocate in MACU’s Bursar’s Office and worked in the Journal Record Building next to the Alfred P. Murrah Building on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. The following is her personal story from that day.

On April 19th, 1995, I was 23 years old, a few years into a long career with the State of Oklahoma. I remember noting the beautiful, sunny, cool morning of the day. I had been at work for almost an hour. I just left the break room to get a refill on my coffee, walked into my boss’ office to drop off something in his basket, and walked to my desk, which was in the reception area at the front of our offices on the third floor of the Journal Record Building. Our office was next to the stairway on the north side of the building facing 6th Street. I was still standing and just sat my coffee on my desk. In a split second, the whole building shook, and the ceiling tiles broke and fell down over my head, and my hot coffee poured down my leg. The room was dark aside from the sunlight from the only two windows in our office facing 6th Street. The air was cloudy because of the dust from the broken ceiling tiles and whatever else was coming from the open ceiling and broken walls. I couldn’t breathe. I covered my face with my shirt and proceeded with my coworkers to the stairway outside our door.

We entered the stairway and had to climb over the walls that fell and lots of debris. When we made it outside, we crossed the street and walked down the sidewalk where so many people had already made it out and sat down on the curb, bleeding and in shock. We were all in shock. So many weird things went through my mind, thinking that the printing press in the basement blew up or an airplane hit our building, but not understanding the severity of it. There was a moment when people started running north because someone yelled that there was another bomb. I had no idea what that meant. Another bomb?

After that was called off, I felt like I was in the way of all the paramedics who had quickly made it to our street to help the wounded. Most of the footage on the news that the world saw was on 6th Street of people sitting, shaking, bleeding. I just had to get out of there and didn’t know where to go on foot. I was glad I thought to grab my purse and keys, so I decided to go into the parking garage to get my car and go home. The elevator had collapsed in the parking garage, so I walked up to my car and drove it out, not caring that it probably wasn’t safe. I just had to go. When I got out to the interstate, I looked to my right and saw that the Murrah Federal building was half gone and that a flap of material from the roof was blowing in the wind. My mind told me that no one died, it’s ok, all is ok. The denial was real. I got home, sat, my hair white from the debris, and watched everything unfold on the news. I couldn’t stop watching, like the rest of the world, on that horrible day.

We were blessed that no one in our office was injured. The two that had windows were not in their offices at the time, or they would have been shredded to pieces. The glass was sucked in, and shards were stuck into the walls, one huge one right where my head was just a few seconds before in my boss’ office. Unfortunately, many friends down the hall on the south side of the building got the full effect of the blast and were severely injured. Some of their belongings were later placed in the museum. Later, we were all honored with our names on the survivor wall. It was a horrible time that should never be forgotten.

There are always good things that come with tragedy. If it weren’t for the bombing, I would not have met my husband of 28 years. I always look for the light in any dark situation because, with the grace of God, there is always light and His blessings. My faith has grown so strong over the years because God has shown me that horrible things can happen, but He continues to bless me with the strength to survive and come out even stronger than I was before.

If one word would describe the theme of my life, that word is Survivor. Today, I am almost three years into surviving the biggest battle so far, stage four cancer. God shows me every day that He is keeping me strong and letting me see the lessons He’s put before me. I pray our eyes stay open to His many lessons and blessings, especially those from life’s tragedies. Thank you for taking the time to read about my “Survivor” story. I’m truly blessed.