Copyright 1995 The San Diego Union-Tribune
The San Diego Union-Tribune
May 1, 1995, Monday
SECTION: NEWS; Ed. 1,2,3; Pg. A-3
LENGTH: 752 words
HEADLINE: Tragic bombings are linked only by the shattering of normal lives SERIES: Inside Sacramento TERROR IN THE HEARTLAND §
BYLINE: DANA WILKIE DANA WILKIE covers Sacramento for the Union-Tribune.
A week ago, after a shoebox-sized package arrived in the mail and exploded in the hands of California Forestry Association president Gilbert Murray, Sacramento police chaplain Mindi Russell stood at the bomb site in her shirt sleeves, shivering a little as the night turned cool.
She described for reporters her visit to Murray's family.
Russell told how she showed up at the door of their Roseville home -- mindful that Murray's wife and sons would forever remember every word she chose. She described how she had to convince Connie Murray that she meant what she said. That this shattering reality was not going away.
A question came from reporters ever in search of that link to a larger story: Did Murray's family wonder about any connection between Gilbert's death and the Oklahoma City bombing?
Some connection, after all, might make Murray's death seem less random and other people's lives less vulnerable. With a connection, people could calculate the probability of their own fates and maybe retain some sense of control over their lives.
The chaplain, a woman familiar with the way relatives greet her news, stood a few yards from investigators as they picked through the bomb's remains. She took a moment to answer.
"When a tragedy like this happens, I don't believe anybody ever believes that it's ever going to happen to them," Russell said into the dozen or so news microphones bunched like a flower arrangement in front of her. "You can listen to the news and you can hear it and say, Well, I think I can be prepared for it.' But you're never ready."
On one level, Russell was saying that there was no connection -- that in situations like these, the concepts of probability and control are meaningless. Though apparently the work of one man with his own twisted reasons for crafting 15 explosives in the past 17 years, the Unabomber's 16th attack remained so random that it would paralyze your life if you thought too much about it.
Monday night, chaplain Russell's words compelled her listeners to think of themselves sitting in the Murray living room, maybe with dinner on the stove, answering the knock of a strange, solemn woman with a badge. Watching her mouth deliver news that, in a few swift moments, would tear up the world you knew. And force you to picture, in awful detail, how the man you loved stood in an office the last moment of his life and curiously unwrapped a benign-looking package.
During the past two weeks, many people probably also put themselves in the shoes of Oklahoma's bombing victims. It could have been them on a Wednesday morning. One moment, sitting at a desk with a cup of coffee. The next, finding that the office's familiar walls had collapsed into a nightmarish trap of caves.
Or they may have tried to imagine being 20-year-old Dana Bradley, pinned in a dank, dark space under the ruins of Oklahoma City's federal building. Hearing strangers say they would amputate your leg, and they would do it without general anesthetic. Forced to live not only with one leg but also with the unspeakable memory of being mutilated under barbaric conditions.
In both cities, the bombers' victims got up that morning and dressed. They probably ate breakfast and may have kissed somebody goodbye -- never aware that this was their final day to live, and that this breakfast and kiss would be their last.
Between the two bombings, that was the only connection.
Almost all of us will return this evening to intact homes and lives, and these images of Bradley or the Murrays will fade. The very morning after the elusive Unabomber struck -- just seven days ago, though it seems longer -- Gov. Pete Wilson's printed remarks on the fatal blast were in reporters' trash cans, making room for the day's next assignments. Even the rescuers who've spent weeks up close to the Oklahoma bombing will eventually put the tragedy behind them, and move on to others.
For most of us, crass as it sounds, both bombings are already yesterday's news. Years from now, when the bombers' court appeals are exhausted and punishment comes due, it might top the news. Just as likely, it might be buried beneath stories already more urgent. Common will be the reader or viewer who thinks: Sacramento bombing . . . which one was that?
It is, as chaplain Russell seemed to be saying last Monday, the only practical way for us to cope: To hurt with the victims for a time, then return to lives where probability and control have meaning.