Archive for Friday, May 12, 1995


May 12, 1995


— Electronic mail is shaping a new neighborhood that is helping families affected by the Oklahoma City bombing come to grips with the tragedy.

Katie Werling sat in front of a computer at 4:20 p.m. soon after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing and posed a question to everyone logged on Prodigy.

"Can you help me?" she began in her open letter to computer users. "I have read some of the information on the bombing and I am sitting here crying. If you could help me I would appreciate it."

"My grandma said that my dad is up in heaven helping all the kids who died. Thank you."

A computer file at American Red Cross disaster headquarters in Oklahoma City began receiving responses to Katie's request within minutes. The first -- at 4:51 p.m. -- was from Terry Kelly.

"You may have read about the people who died and the sadness everyone feels. You also need to see the way that everyone is reaching out and helping each other. Cry if you need to, honey, and then take a great big hug from somebody that loves you."

Emotional shockwaves are still being felt across the country three weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing which lead to the death of 167 people -- including 19 children. Millions of people, especially children, fell victim to the disaster.

The Red Cross is helping set up a 24-hour hot line staffed by licensed mental health professionals to provide crisis intervention to anyone who wants to talk one-on-one about concerns or fears generated by the bombing.

"We have all watched the aftermath on television and have come to the realization that this could happen here, or to us," said Jerry Jacobs, a Red Cross mental health consultant in Washington, D.C.

"These increased feelings of vulnerability are difficult to handle, and children are particularly at risk in this situation due to the focus on children's injuries and deaths," he said.

From 2 p.m. Friday to noon Wednesday, folks can call 1-800-482-7076 to discuss their reactions in an anonymous, compassionate atmosphere. About 150 volunteer counselors will staff the phone bank at the University of South Dakota.

About two hours after Katie sent her message, Val Adams answered.

"I am sorry that you have to be so sad and hear about such horrible crimes, but don't be afraid and let those terrible bombers win," Adams said.

"The best thing you can do for the little children lost in Oklahoma City is to think of them, be sad for them, but then try and go on being a little girl and enjoy all the things they cannot."

Ingrid Wagner, a Rochester, N.Y., mental health volunteer assisting the Red Cross in Oklahoma City, said children and adults will feel angry, anxious or tearful. These strong emotions don't indicate a person is emotionally unstable, she said.

"It's human nature," Wagner said. "This is an extraordinary event. It's important to talk about these feelings. It's a way to reduce the stress."

Here are tips to help children cope with the psychological trauma of the bombing: remember that fears are normal in children, don't criticize or shame a child for his fears, be physically near the children, help them express feelings through art and, of course, listen.

At 8:50 p.m., Oklahoma City hospital worker James Marovich sent a reply to Katie.

"You are crying in good company, with doctors, nurses, technicians and administrators. I've seen it all. We cry because people were hurt, and it's our way of showing we care when words don't work. Some day the crying will stop, but we will not forget."

With heavy hearts and misspelled words, the cards and letters poured into Oklahoma City from schools in every state in the country.

At Red Cross headquarters, box after box revealed the bewilderment of children in Libertyville, Ill.; Portland, Ore.; Free Soil, Mich.; Coral Gables, Fla.; and Brookings, S.D.

Rita Marie colored heart-shaped balloons on yellow construction paper. On the front, she wrote "I wish you fill bater!"

Inside was her poem: "Roses are red. Villenss are blue. Serger is swit. And so are you, friend in Oklahoma."

Kelly Finchum filed a message to Katie at 9:32 p.m. from a computer in Bethany, Okla.

"Katie, you are such a brave girl. I know it is hard asking for help but keeping it inside is worse. Talk to the adults around you. Your mother, teacher or other grownups can help you. A great big hug from Bethany."

Among the 5,000 E-mail messages sent via Prodigy to Red Cross was one from David Houghton, a St. Louis police officer.

His note was delivered to a rescue worker who helped sift through rubble of the federal building in search of victims.

"We can't imagine what your situation's like, but we all know what it's like when everybody's running one way and we have to run the other. Run for us. Work for us," Houghton wrote.

At 3:47 a.m. the next day, Julie Wiegert of Weatherford, Okla., replied to Katie's plea for comforting words.

"Please know that there are many more good people in the world than bad. We have had people from all over the United States come and help us since this happened, and the people here are really pulling together and helping each other.

"Your dad must have been a great man. Your telling us about him did something to make me feel better, because about a year ago my nephew, Michael, went to heaven. Now I know that someone who is a great father is there to help take care of him.

"Love and hugs, Julie."

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