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Tenth anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing observed
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Children who lost their parents in the Oklahoma City bombing recited the names of the dead, and mourners gently laid bouquets on empty chairs symbolizing each victim Tuesday as they observed the 10th anniversary of the nation's worst act of domestic terrorism.
In a church that served as a temporary morgue after the blast, more than 1,600 people remembered those who died with 168 seconds of silence starting at 9:02 a.m., the moment that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building collapsed into a heap of desks, concrete and bodies on April 19, 1995.
They also honored the survivors, the rescuers and the endurance of a damaged city that former President Clinton said "made us all Americans again."
"Oklahoma City changed us all. It broke our hearts and lifted our spirits and brought us together," said Clinton, who was in office on the sunny morning that Timothy McVeigh brought his bomb and hatred for the government to the city in a Ryder truck.
168 empty chairs
Across the street at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, in the grassy field where the building once stood, 168 empty chairs were a solemn reminder of the carnage of a decade earlier. Teddy bears were placed on miniature chairs representing the 19 children slain in the building's day care.
Juanita Espinosa wiped away tears as she stood in front of the pint-sized chair of her cousin, 2-year-old Zackary Chavez.
"They found his head one week, and his body another week," she said. "It's still too much to think about."
Regina Bonny, a retired undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency who was pulled from the debris, placed wreaths and flowers on the chairs of four slain co-workers. "I pray over them. I talk to them," she said. "I'll never let anyone forget them."
McVeigh was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001. Conspirator Terry Nichols is serving multiple life sentences after being convicted in federal and state court.
"I'm on the road to forgiveness," said Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two young grandsons, Aaron and Elijah, in the blast. "I will feel much better once I can forgive Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols."
Vice President Dick Cheney also spoke at the ceremony, telling survivors and family members of victims that goodness has overcome the evil of the blast in the last 10 years.
"All humanity can see you experienced bottomless cruelty and responded with heroism," Cheney said. "Your strength was challenged and you held firm. Your faith was tested and it has not wavered."
In a statement, President Bush said Oklahoma City "will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass."
Clinton got a chuckle when he mentioned the Survivor Tree, the elm that was heavily damaged in the bombing and is now a leafy green reminder of it.
"Boy, that tree was ugly when I first saw it [in 1995], but survive it did," Clinton said.
"Trees are good symbols for what you did. You can't forget the past of a tree. It's in the roots, and if you lose the roots you lose the tree. But the nature of the tree is to always reach for tomorrow. It's in the branches."
Behind him sat living symbols of hope: four fidgeting children who survived the blast.
P.J. Allen, Brandon and Rebecca Denny and Christopher Nguyen reminded the crowd of the memorial's creed, "May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."
The former president and the vice president stood and applauded them.