Week of Remembrance: April 19, Waco and Oklahoma City

In continuing with my “week of remembrance” series, unfortunately today marks the anniversary of two absolutely terrible tragedies: the end of the 73-day “Waco Siege” and also the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

I mentioned the Waco Siege a few months ago when I did a response to the series done by CNN called, “Crimes of the Century.” I did not go into much detail then about it, and I still do not want to go to much detail here, but since we are remembering what happened on this day 21 years ago, it may be appropriate for me to put my personal feelings about the matter aside.

It started in February of 1993, when it was somehow discovered that a “cult” in Waco, Texas known as the Branch Davidians (a sect of the Seventh Day Adventists) were stocking up on illegal automatic weapons as well as using underaged girls as “spouses” for the sect’s leader, David Koresh (thus resulting in statutory rape among other illegal activities when minors are involved). Once ATF became involved in what they were doing in their compound known as “Mount Carmel”, a simple raid on the compound was all that it intended to be — the goal being to obtain the weapons that were illegal in the United States. Sadly, this turned into a 73-day operation that blew so far out of proportion for what law enforcement intended it to be — a raid. Koresh refused to surrender and this resulted in military tanks being brought onto the compound, and a few law enforcement officers loosing their lives at the unexpected extreme backlash by the Branch Davidians.

It is unknown to this day who fired the first shot that ended up in the firefight between law enforcement (by this point, the Attorney General and FBI were involved) and the Branch Davidians (namely Koresh), though the ending was something that I believe no one could have ever expected. Tear gas was thrown into the compound as an attempt to get Koresh and the rest of his followers he held hostage with him out of the building, but instead, a fire erupted and ultimately 76 of the Branch Davidians lost their lives, including 33-year-old David Koresh and his many children.


Ironically enough, a man sat on the hood of his truck on the outside of the compound watching the siege unfold each day. That man was Timothy McVeigh, just 25-years-old at the time of the siege. He became incredibly outraged at the “government’s actions” regarding the Branch Davidian’s along with the issue of gun rights for Americans. He had already served in the Army in the Gulf War, and in the documentary, “The McVeigh Tapes” he describes a moment of shooting multiple people from far range (he was trained as a sniper) and remembering something changing inside of him and he watched through the gun his shots take the lives of his targets. It was more than just him fighting for his country — it had become something deeply personal. He decided it was time to do something to “get back” at the government for what they had done, namely in the Waco Siege.

Terribly, he recruits two fellow soldiers, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, to assist in the making of the bombs. He says, in the documentary (which is just recordings, no actual video), that he wanted to hit a place where he could kill as many government workers as possible to teach them a lesson, that way more of the government could feel the effect of his actions, so he says. So, he picked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On the day of the bombing, April 19, 1995, he drove a Ryder truck with the bombs he, Nichols, and Fortier assembled (using their military intelligence, nonetheless) near the entrance of the building, calmly walked away, moments later setting it off with an explosion. A car with no license plate was parked for him blocks away and he said he purposefully did not put a license plate on the car because he wanted to be pulled over and he wanted to the government to use as much of their resources as possible looking for him. (Which they did — he was pulled over later and put into jail where he could see everything regarding the bombing unfold on a television.)

The Oklahoma City bombing was the largest terrorist attack our country had ever seen — 168 people were killed and nearly 500 more were injured. All the while, McVeigh sat in a jail cell, pleased with what he had done. It was absolutely sickening to hear his own words regarding how satisfied the bombing made him. He had no remorse for anyone who lost a loved one and felt absolutely no responsibility or pain for them, even in his final moments before his execution in 2001. (Which, by the way, he ultimately wanted for himself so he could be a “use” to spend as much of the government’s money and resources as possible.)

Timothy McVeigh was, without a doubt, a sincerely disturbed person. However, in watching this documentary, I could see what a smart, brilliant man he was, ultimately using his intelligence for the worst, not the better. He could have been so much more in his life, but one decision, one instant, one thought changed his entire fate. He could have been such an asset to the military and could have been so successful, had he not made that choice to take the road that he took, resulting in his own death along with the death of so many innocent others. It really is too bad.

I visited the Oklahoma City memorial when we lived there — sometime between 1999 and the summer of 2001 (pre-9/11), and though I was really young when the bombing happened, I remember it, and seeing this memorial was one of the most sober experiences a teenager could have. It was incredibly beautiful and such a great tribute to all of the lives lost that day in such a senseless act. It was amazing to see, even five to six years later, so many flowers and gifts left on the “chairs” that represent each one of the victims. The workers told us that there are so many flowers and gifts left that they literally have to go around every day and collect them, otherwise there would be too much flooding the memorial. It was such a great testimony to the good that still exists in the world, despite the terrible evil that got into McVeigh and caused him to do such a terrible thing.

The beautiful memorial “chairs” at night, where the building once stood. (via OKC bombing memorial site)

Week of Remembrance: April 16, Virginia Tech

Continuing with my “Week of Remembrance” series, today, April 16, marks seven years since the massacre at Virginia Tech that took the lives of 33 students and teachers.

Every year on this day, I have attempted to write a tribute to one of the victims I knew from high school, Leslie Sherman. As I look back on all that I’ve written over the last seven years, I still feel as though no words are accurate, nor do they really portray the effect her death has had on my life. As the years have gone by, time has helped to heal the wound and stop the tears, but it has not helped to heal the scar that still remains, and probably will be there as long as I live.

To do something different this year, I went back to something I wrote and posted on Facebook (of all places, but that’s what we did back then!) the day after the shooting took place, and I wanted to share it again because this shows how raw my 19-year-old self felt the following day.

Yesterday, I could not believe it when I saw it. “21 Dead at Virginia Tech shooting” read the headline. Minutes later, that number on the headlines jumped to 32. How could this be? And just to any school in the United States, it had to be in a school where many of my fellow classmates from elementary and high school, and friends attended. Immediately, my reaction was to call or write to everyone I knew on here to see if they were all right. I knew that the chances of any of them being hurt were slim in a school of nearly 26,000, but hoped that there was no one on my list of just 21 Facebook friends there at Virginia Tech was killed.

Until last night, once I returned from class, I saw it on here and immediately tears started pouring from my eyes. How can one person take the lives of so many innocent people, let alone someone that I knew as so smart, funny, and wonderful? Even though it has been almost four years since I last saw Leslie, my memories of her in high school have not faded quickly. I have a picture of us together on the last day that I saw her (Katee, it was at your goodbye party at the Embassy Suites in Old Town) and it tears me apart to think that none of us knew that in less than four years, she would be shot in the worst killing spree in the history of this country. God had her days numbered, just as He does for the rest of us. He knew that on that day those people’s lives would be taken from such a sick individual. I praise God that no one else that I knew of had their lives taken yesterday, and I am thankful that each and every one of you are safe and okay as I type this!

It also tears me apart to think that this is the third person from my class at West Springfield who has died. [sic] I don’t think we will ever understand here on earth why God would allow such a terrible thing to happen and allow so many innocent lives to be taken. But the saying that my mom quotes whenever something like this happens is so true: “You are invincible until God calls you home.”

My heart goes out to all of you there at Virginia Tech and know that I am praying for you guys so much. I know a lot of people here at my campus all the way in Orlando are praying for you all as well. You all have so much support from everyone in the nation, and even the world. Know that God is with you ALWAYS, He will never leave your side no matter what. Turn to Him for your comfort and your strength in this tremendous time of need. He will NEVER let you down. Also remember this verse that rings true so well in this time of need: “Though He brings grief, He WILL show compassion, for GREAT is His unfailing love.” (Lamentations 3:32, emphasis mine)

May God bless every student there in Virginia Tech, the entire Blacksburg community, and last but not least, the families of the victims. [sic] may God bless West Springfield High School and all of the people in it. You all are still so dear to my heart!

Leslie, top left. Me, bottom right.


Week of Remembrance: April 15, Boston

This week, nearly every day has an anniversary of an absolute tragedy that has occurred in this country sometime over the last few decades. I’ve decided that in addition to my usual Leslie/Virginia Tech tribute I try to write each year, I’d like to remember some of the other people who have also lost their lives in such horrific ways.

I’ll start with today, April 15: the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon Bombings. It’s been a whirlwind of a year as far as what’s happened in my heart and mind as a result of these bombings, and I can say with absolute confidence that I’m not alone in admitting that.

What is so easy to say when something like this happens is that the person (or persons) who is responsible for this is evil. They took the lives of innocent people, the confidence they had in their city and country, and for some, whoever was responsible for this also took their limbs. It’s easy to say how much we want those responsible to suffer and pay for what they have done, and it is easy to support the Attorney General when he announces to seek the death penalty against that person.

What isn’t easy, however, is feeling so much hurt for not just the victims of this senseless act, but for those that were responsible. What isn’t easy is seeing that they too have a family who loves them and now they have to live with the their loss in addition to the guilt that comes with knowing what their loved one was responsible for in the last days of their life on this earth. What isn’t easy is having confidence and faith in humanity again and believing that despite it all, there is still good in this world. What isn’t easy is not wanting the surviving individual to suffer in hell for eternity, despite what he’s done on this earth in his life that most believe is not forgivable (though it is). What isn’t easy is not agreeing with the decision to seek the death penalty as a punishment for his actions. What isn’t easy is praying every day for him to realize what he’s done and repent from his terrible actions, and also being thankful that he is still alive and therefore has a chance at redemption.

What isn’t easy is realizing that despite all the pain and suffering two people’s actions have caused, is that now there is a choice to be made and that choice only points to living. Choosing to live no matter your circumstances. I believe that every victim, no matter their age, sex, or religious affiliation even, has made that choice to live. And to not let another moment of their lives be robbed by such a terrible crime. Making the choice to live is not the easiest choice, in fact, it’s probably the harder one. But choosing to live despite loosing a leg, or the hearing in an ear, or even loosing a loved one, is the only choice that can allow God to work in ways that no one ever knew were possible.


Be the Match and Be the One to Save a Life!

imageI’ve recently deemed myself the “unofficial spokesperson” for Be The Match. If you’ve seen me in person within the last few months, or have even so much as texted me, you’ve probably heard my long-winded speech about becoming a bone marrow donor. Yes, I probably sound crazy trying to get people to donate the inside of their bones essentially, but by doing it, you can literally save the life of a leukemia or blood cancer patient. I’ve found, like myself, that before my family’s friend’s leukemia diagnosis, I had no idea that I was a prime and perfect candidate to become a bone marrow donor. Yes, me. The girl who has never so much as donated blood because she can’t (having lived in Europe…MOO!) is THE person they want to join the registry. All it takes is for someone to be willing.

What I’ve found, sadly, by giving my Be the Match speech to nearly anyone who will listen, is that people don’t want to be in pain. People don’t want to be inconvenienced in any sense of the word. People don’t want to give part of “their body” away to someone else. And I get it, I really do. But choosing to become a bone marrow donor is not about you. It’s not about how it will benefit you, because honestly, it won’t. It’s about someone else. Someone else whose very life depends on a transplant. Someone else who needs it so much more than I do, especially since my body will replenish the donated marrow within four to six weeks! It’s about saving that person’s life, and saving that person’s family from so much grief and heartache because they couldn’t find a donor.

So, I’ve decided to answer some questions I’ve received from people while trying to get them to sign up, because in this case, the more people know, the more I believe they will want to help. (Although sadly, I have not been able to successfully convince anyone except my husband to join the registry.)

What does it mean to “join” and become a donor? To join the registry means to have your DNA mapped to determine if you’re a match for someone in need. A “match” for a bone marrow donor is determined through your DNA (though I’m not sure of the specifics…a bunch of medical mumbo-jumbo I don’t understand, though it’s something to do with your ancestry) and they get your DNA by sending you a kit with four q-tips to swab the inside of your cheek. Then it is mailed back and it takes a few weeks for it to be mapped. Then, you’re in the system and when someone needs a transplant, their DNA is compared to all the DNA in the system to see if there is a match.

What are the qualifications to join? You need to be between the ages of 18-44 and in good health, and not more than 20% (I believe) overweight. Also, they ask you if you’ve ever had sex for money or had sex for drugs, so I know a lot of my friends are automatically excluded. Just kidding. The criteria are like that of donating blood, but probably not as specific. (That is just what I’ve heard from my husband who has donated blood in the past, where I have not) If you’re pregnant, you cannot physically give during that nine month period, but you can (and PLEASE) donate your umbilical cord blood to Be the Match.

Does it cost anything to join the registry? No. All of the costs are covered by Be the Match if you are between the ages of 18-44. If you’re over 44, it will cost you $100, but that is because after age 44, you’re not in the “prime” stage to donate.

What are the chances that I will be called to donate? According to bethematch.org, only one in 540 people on the registry will ever be called as a match to a recipient and asked to donate in their lifetime.

How much does it cost to actually donate if I am a match? Nothing. Most of the costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance.

Does it hurt to actually donate if I am a match? The whole “donating bone marrow really hurts” idea is actually a common misconception. There are two different ways to donate — one being similar to giving blood (taken from your stem cells) and the other is through an outpatient surgical procedure where it is typically removed from your hip bone. Sure, you’re going to feel a little pain afterward because you did have an incision into your body, but this isn’t going to be some long-term painful procedure. The type of donation depends on the needs of the patient.

If I am mapped, is my DNA used for any other purposes or available to anyone else? No, it is strictly used to be in the registry of donors. Your DNA will not be sold or used for research, or whatever concern you may have. It is perfectly safe and there is no risk of “DNA theft.” (This was never a thought in my head until a friend brought it up a few months ago, and it is a valid point.)

Any other questions? Visit bethematch.org and be convinced. It is not about helping yourself, it’s about saving another life! Be the Match and be the one to save a life.