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Sept. 11 leaves Okla. City chaplain ‘pretty heavy-hearted’ for families

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP)–Joe Williams has been there, done that. So, although he was shocked by the terror that hit the East Coast on the morning of Sept. 11, he said he also wasn’t surprised.

“In fact, just yesterday, I discussed this type of thing happening in public places like malls and schools,” said Williams, retired chaplaincy specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and currently chaplain for the FBI in Oklahoma City.

Williams, who received the FBI’s award of excellence for exceptional public service and its top civilian award in 1998, was among the first people on the scene following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. He spent 19 days at the site during rescue operations.

The chaplain said the first thing that came to mind following the news of the aircrafts crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City was the families of the victims — people who went to work one day and won’t ever come home.

“That’s what we dealt with in our bombing,” Williams said. “It will be days and days before we have estimates of the number of people killed … but I always think about their families because I have dealt with so many families over the last six years. I feel pretty heavy-hearted about that.”

He said his first obligation now is to the FBI, in an interview with the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger from the agency’s Oklahoma City field office the morning of the attack.

Williams said most of the people he interacted with during the morning just told him they were glad he was there.

“I have been requested to pray, have prayed with individuals, and I’ve had some come and say, ‘I just need a hug,'” Williams said. “Some who have been in New York and have worked these kinds of events are pretty anxious.”

Williams said when he was watching television, he noticed firefighters who went into the World Trade Center to rescue people, and when the building came down, some were running out, reminding him of when people in Oklahoma City were running from the Murrah building after a second bomb scare.

The fact that there were no leaks of the attack beforehand leaves Williams feeling this was a well-orchestrated attack, and that this may be just the beginning.

“I feel that what is our ‘normal’ in the U.S. has been altered forever,” Williams said. “We’ll have to seek new normals, because this kind of thing could go on. Just 10 people can alter the course of our nation.”

    About the Author

  • Dana Williamson