I was in high school about two miles north of ground zero.
I was checking over the set of our production of “Little Shop of Horrors” just before hundreds of elementary school students were due to arrive at our school to watch our show. This was just a few days after my 15th birthday.
Everyone suspected that the boiler or the new AC units had exploded. It’s the only thing that made sense at the time.
A few minutes later, the principal’s voice came over the intercom. His voice sounded different than usual. What was usually an upbeat and cheerful voice was now flat, robotic, terrified and on the verge of tears.
“Teachers, please release all students who have family working in or around the Murrah Federal Building to meet in the auditorium immediately. Everyone else, please stay put. Thank you”.
At least a third of the thousand-or-so students shuffled to the auditorium, confused. I was also confused because I was already in the auditorium where were expecting several hundred children to arrive in just a few minutes… and my father works a block away from the Murrah Building.
The principal told the students in the auditorium what had happened. We were told that we could use the resources in the school’s office to try to contact our families. Most everyone decided to leave school and either go downtown or go home to contact their families. No one was going to stop us. The older kids crammed in as many underclassmen as they could into their cars to take them wherever they needed to go.
The other kids who were still in the classrooms figured out very quickly that something was horribly wrong when the kids from the auditorium came back into the classrooms to retrieve their belongs, many of them in absolute hysterics and some shell shocked. Word spread very quickly about what had happened. My pager, which I wasn’t supposed to have in school, went off displaying my father’s ‘code’ so I knew he was okay. This was before every kid had a cellphone.
The bus loads of children were turned away when they arrived to see the show. Half the cast and crew had already left the building, myself included. I don’t know how the administrators handled turning the buses away and if they broke the news to them right then and there. It would be interesting to know in retrospect.
A friend of mine and I walked to ground zero and helped bring water to the rescue crews.
I will never forget that day.
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