OKCPD chaplain reflects on Murrah Building bombing


Twenty-nine years ago, first responders prepared for what seemed to be like another ordinary day of work. Little did they know they were about to experience an event that would change their lives forever. 

Jack Poe, then serving as chief chaplain for the Oklahoma City Police Department, vividly recalls the moments as he arrived at the scene within 15 minutes of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995. 

“It was simply surreal. Two-thirds of the building had been obliterated,” Poe said. 

As part of their duties, Poe and his team organized survival and critical workshops for the family members and loved ones affected by the attack. These workshops, funded by a grant from the Department of Justice, aimed to assist first responders in coping with the trauma they had witnessed. The goal was to provide them with essential tools and support to navigate through the experiences they faced in the line of duty that day. 

Poe’s crew retrieved the last body on the day of the bombing, marking the last retrieval of the day. “It was tough on our team because everyone was eager to enter the building and locate more individuals. We held hope of finding more survivors,” Poe said. Gradually, it transitioned from a rescue mission to a recovery operation. 

Many responders, when asked how they were coping, would often reply with a simple “I’m doing fine.” They were asked what “fine” truly meant. The answer revealed a need for their suppressed emotions to find an outlet. This day truly took a toll on these officers.

 “You don’t go through a traumatic experience without it having an impact on you forever,” Poe said. “We refer to this as state-dependent memory.” 

The only way to confront a traumatic event is to openly talk about it, Poe said, and failing to do so only allows it to burrow inside. Eventually, they succeeded in persuading individuals that seeking help was not a sign of weakness but of strength. During the workshops, one spouse approached the volunteers with heartfelt gratitude, saying, “Thank you for giving me back my husband.” 

Such moments reaffirmed Poe’s crew that they were doing the right thing. Poe later recounted an experience conducting a workshop in Canada with The Royal Canadian Navy. They urged him to convey to the people of Oklahoma City that it’s perfectly acceptable to shed tears. 

“We know it’s okay to cry; we just struggle to admit it sometimes,” Poe said. “Tears unshed cause other organs to weep. So if we don’t address our emotions, our bodies feel the impact inwardly, that’s our bodies telling us that we’re hurting.” 

Nearly three decades later, It’s hard to make sense of the attack, but acknowledging its occurrence is essential. Poe said. 

“You have to also accept it to move forward, for living in the present rather than dwelling in the past. Transitioning from the past to the present is like opening a new chapter in life. because life goes on,” Poe said. “Without forgiveness, we allow those who wronged us to maintain control over our lives. We refuse to let them hold power over us.” 

Profound connections were made after the attack, including Jack’s experience in assisting in the aftermath of 9/11 in New York. The bonds he made go a long way as his friends from New York visit Oklahoma City for the anniversary most years and Poe reciprocates the same by traveling for theirs. 

“After the bombing, Oklahoma City became more than just a name on the map,” Poe said. “Oklahoma City became a heart in the American people. Because everywhere we went, people expressed solidarity saying ‘We’ve been praying for you.’”

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