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Oklahoma City bombing victims thank Baptists for financial aid

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–“They done good” is how Clark Leach referred to Southern Baptists and their relief fund in helping victims of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City.
Leach, who worked for the Oklahoma County sheriff’s office at the time of the blast, was in a break room with another officer when the bomb exploded.
“We were about three blocks west of the Murrah Building, and it took us about 15 minutes to determine exactly what had happened,” Leach said.
When Leach discovered the Murrah Building had been destroyed by the explosion, his first thought was of 3-year-old Zackary, his stepson, who was in the day-care area.
Stuck in the sheriff’s office dispatch room, it was about an hour before Clark was able to get to the bomb site.
“It was the most devastating thing I had ever seen,” Clark said. “When I found the location of the day-care center, all I saw was a hole and debris.”
Borrowing a cell phone, Leach tried to call his wife, Alisha, who worked about four blocks north of the location. He finally contacted his mother who said Alisha had been turned away from the site and taken to the Red Cross.
“I went to the Red Cross, found Alisha among hundreds of people and asked what Zackary was wearing that day,” Leach said. “All of the people we pulled out of the building were gray; their skin, clothes, everything was imbedded with dust and it was difficult to identify anyone.”
By the time Leach returned to the bomb site, the medical examiner had brought in refrigerated semi-trailers to use as makeshift morgues. When a trailer was full of bodies, it was taken to the medical examiner’s office in the University Hospital complex.
“One of the medical examiners found me and told me he thought they had located the child I was looking for,” Leach said. “By the time I got to the trailer, the body already had been taken to the medical examiner’s office.”
That’s when Leach met Joe Williams, chaplaincy specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and FBI chaplain, who was one of the first chaplains on site.
“He told me he would go with me to the medical examiner’s office,” Leach said. “There were stacks of bodies, if you can imagine that. It’s hard for me to imagine, and I saw it.”
Leach identified Zackary, although he was decapitated, his legs had been blown off and his left arm was missing.
Alisha was pregnant at the time, and when their son, Jake, was born, and it was time for her to go back to work, she said she couldn’t even think about putting their son in day care.
“The Southern Baptist bombing relief fund and other agencies provided funds to help us as well as other victims,” Leach said. “It allowed Alisha to stay home and take care of Jake while we all attended counseling sessions.”
More than $750,000 has been received by the fund from all sources, including interest, for a wide range of uses for victims of the bombing, including medical and household expenses, children’s clothing and school costs, house renovation for those injured, job training and mental health therapy. As of Oct. 31 last year, the fund’s balance was just below $90,000.
Leach said their financial needs did not go away, and “I can’t tell you how much Southern Baptists helped.”
He said they were initially referred to another relief organization whose workers insulted Alisha and sent her away in tears three or four times.
“But Southern Baptists were wonderful and very supportive,” he said. “They helped us with funds, and were supportive in every way.
“They are a bunch of nice people, professional in taking care of our needs, but they also earnestly care.”
Alisha has gone back to work on a trial basis, while Clark, who is now with the Choctaw Police Department, stays home with Jake and second son, Ben, during the day.
The Baptist bombing relief fund is helping with car and house payments until August 1999.
“I can’t begin to describe how the Lord has blessed us,” Leach said. “I can tell you firsthand Joe Williams has been a great blessing to our family and is a good representative of Southern Baptists.”
Patti Hall, who worked with the federal employees credit union on the third floor of the Murrah Building, was injured extensively with a broken elbow, ribs, pelvis, ankles and heel, crushed knees and legs and a punctured lung.
“It was touch-and-go for several weeks,” said Hall, who was kept in an induced coma so she wouldn’t remember the pain and the surgeries.
Hall was in the hospital for two months, and in a hospital bed and wheelchair for seven months. It wasn’t until January 1996 that she took her first steps. When she came out of the coma, she had to learn to talk, eat and feed herself.
“I was totally dependent on other people,” Hall said. “I’m now trying to make a new life for myself because I had to take retirement disability in April.” She has not worked since the day of the bombing.
Fifteen surgeries later, Hall said she doesn’t experience a day without pain, but is grateful to Baptists for their help in therapy for her. She was sent by Williams to a five-day critical care therapy session in Stillwater and to Valley Hope in Cushing which she said “saved her life.”
“They are very much believers in teaching people to take care of themselves, putting God number one in your life,” Hall related. “They taught me to go with the tide and do the best I can each day.”
Hall said she would be nowhere without help from the Baptist relief fund.
“They bought me a car and helped me pay my rent, because my salary stopped the day of the bombing.”
Hall added she doesn’t think she is aware of all the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma has done for her.
“I know they wholeheartedly support anyone who was in the bombing monetarily and with therapy help,” she said. “The BGCO is there for me even if I just need to call Anthony Jordan (BGCO executive director who was Hall’s pastor at Northwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing) or Joe Williams just to talk. Knowing they are there makes me want to do for other people; to give back in return.
“I am thankful for what God has done for me. It has taken me a long time to realize how powerful he is.”
Lee Benson, former executive secretary for Concerned Clergy in Oklahoma City, who served on the Resource Coordination Committee with Williams, recounted how the Baptist relief fund helped the family of Lakesha Levy.
Levy was in the Social Security office getting her Social Security card when the bombing occurred. Her case later made the news when her body was exhumed to try and match a missing leg.
Levy’s large family resides in New Orleans, and because of the distance, needed funds to attend the memorial services and the bombing trial in Denver, where her mother, Constance Favorite, was a witness.
“The family had not asked for anything, but it was burdensome for them to pay for travel and lodging, and the Baptists stepped in and helped,” Benson said.
Benson said on one occasion, Favorite was trying to get home from Denver to celebrate a holiday with her family and couldn’t change her airline ticket for travel straight to New Orleans rather than stopping over in Oklahoma City.
“The BGCO stepped in and absorbed the additional cost of the ticket,” Benson said.
Favorite, Benson said, has expressed her appreciation to Williams and the Baptists for their help.
“She is grateful for how the people of God stepped in to meet a need,” Benson said. “The ministries were extremely generous and she is thankful for the concern the BGCO showed for her and her close-knit family.”
Benson said Williams always came forward in the resource coordination committee meetings, consistently and continuously.
“There were some needs that were seemingly going unattended and the Baptists availed of their resources to try and make things better,” he said.

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  • Dana Williamson