May 16, 1995
Perry funeral director Lloyd Brown will live with memories of the Oklahoma City bomb explosion that none of us can possibly imagine. For two weeks, he was with a team that had the grim task of positively identifying the bodies of victims found in the Murrah Federal Building debris.
Lloyd was at the start of a two-week vacation in California when he received word of the tragedy on April 19. Typically, he was combining vacation time with helping someone else: He was delivering a truckload of furniture to his sister in California. When news of the Oklahoma City disaster reached him, he immediately turned around and returned to this state. Again, with Lloyd, such an immediate reaction is typical. He did not need to have someone tell him he should be on the scene.
Several years ago the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association started preparing themselves for dealing with possible emergency situations in this area. Members were divided into teams for specialized training, learning how to deal with extraordinary situations involving a large number of victims. Originally it was assumed they would be serving in the aftermath of a tornado or perhaps a plane crash. Nothing like the April 19 tragedy could possibly have been foreseen.
In addition to the specialized team training, each of the funeral directors received instructions in other team members' functions so that any of them would be equipped to fill any job that the circumstances might require. The program was initiated as a means of providing assistance to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is called in after a flood, earthquake or other type of major upheaval, such as the Oklahoma City bomb blast.
Lloyd shared some of his experiences with members of the Perry Rotary club Monday, and it was obvious that this tragedy has had a profound impact on him. Even the professionals, who are perhaps incorrectly expected to be steeled against the emotional assault of such things, found themselves drawn into this stark drama.
Working nominal 12-hour shifts, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the daily ordeal often required them to stay on the job much longer. The group had identification badges that passed them through the police lines into the ground zero area, just a few yards from where the bomb was detonated. Transportation to the site was furnished each day by Whinery's, the airport parking people who have a fleet of shuttle buses. Lloyd's temporary home was at a motel.
Another Perryan deeply involved in the process was Dr. Bryan Chrz, DDS, a certified forensics pathologist. Lloyd noted that many victims could only be identified by their dental work. Although most of the men had billfolds, that was not acceptable as positive ID. Fingerprints or dental records were usually required before the medical examiner would certify an individual's identity. Dr. Chrz's skill and training proved invaluable in the process.
Scenes of the disaster area on television hardly tell the story, Lloyd said. "Those pictures are one-dimensional. Seeing it up close really makes you understand how horrible this thing was. The only thing holding some of the upper stories together , was reinforcement bars and imagination," he said.
Perry national guardsmen assisted in patrolling the area, and many volunteers from Noble county presented themselves for whatever needed to be done. Lloyd told of numerous instances of selfless aid provided by hundreds. One example of this was an Oklahoma City neurosurgeon who called an emergency center with an offer to help. He told them, "I know you don't need a brain surgeon down there, but listen, I can push a broom." Lloyd said the doctor did just that for the next two weeks.
Perhaps another local angle occurred after trooper Charlie Hanger arrested Timothy McVeigh 90 minutes after the bomb went off. When word leaked out that McVeigh was in the Noble county jail and had been identified as a prime suspect in the explosion, media representatives from throughout the U.S. began descending on Perry. Two of the first to arrive were Ginnie Netherton, a PHS and OU journalism graduate, now a reporter for the Tulsa World; and Jack Bush, former newsman with KASR here who now works in Stillwater. Jack fed reports to KVOO in Tulsa and also helped our local station in its coverage. John Klein, another native Perryan now with the Tulsa World, also was on the scene in Oklahoma City.
Perhaps other stories of special interest here will emerge from this terrible event. The Oklahoma City bomb explosion, with all of its ramifications, is likely to remain in out thoughts for many years to come.