Clark Peterson, of Hinckley, has had 20 years to think about an event that changed the course of his life. On April 19, 1995, Clark survived the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Now referred to as the Oklahoma City bombing, and commemorated with public memorial services, this tragedy has left as many questions in the minds of the survivors as any sort of definitive answers. Clark chooses not to attend memorial events because he doesn’t believe the conclusions of investigators. “I don’t go because it’s not true.” He says there have been, “deliberate eliminations of evidence.”
Clark worked in advertising and public affairs on the fourth floor of the nine-story Murrah building. April 19 began as most Wednesdays did in the Murrah building though Clark took note that there were only half as many people in the building as usual. “There was a big time maintenance job that had been postponed, and many people from the Social Security Administration were out for a class.”
Clark views it as a miracle and strange coincidence that New York’s Trade Towers and the Pentagon, as well as the Murrah building, all had fewer than normal people inside when they were attacked. “During business hours inside the Trade Towers (the day of the attack in 2001), it housed about the lowest number of people in its 25-plus year history. The Murrah building averaged 600 people during business hours; on its fateful moment, there were 361 instead of 600, inside.”
Of the 361, 168 were on the list of officially documented deaths from the bombing. Nineteen of them were children in the building’s day care center. Clark says that number doesn’t include the three unborn babies nor undocumented missing people. He thinks the number is more than 172.
It was business as usual, much like Clark’s other nine years of mornings at the Murrah building, until 9:02. Then chaos erupted. “There was a rapid, powerful, black wind. Things were flying.” He recalls strange illuminations within the darkness. “They were objects, each somehow lit up. As they flew by, I could not tell what they were except for two, a monitor and typewriter.”
A co-worker screamed, and he saw her arms go up, but later realized her arms flew up because she was falling. He heard a boom, and then saw floating black debris which he identified as from car fires across the street.
Clark was knocked unconscious. When he came to, he saw sky where the ceiling of his office building had been. “I thought right away that it was a bomb.” When the New York Trade Towers were first attacked in 1993 he had considered whether the Murrah building might be a target. “The thought came and left. Who’s heard of this building?” he remembers thinking.
An online account of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 reviews that event: “On Friday, February 26, 1993, Ramzi Yousef (a Kuwaiti who spent time at an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan) and a Jordanian friend, Eyad Ismoil, drove a yellow Ryder van into Lower Manhattan and pulled into the public parking garage beneath the World Trade Center around noon. They parked on the underground B-2 level. Yousef ignited the 20-foot fuse, and fled. Twelve minutes later, at 12:17:37 pm, the bomb exploded in the underground garage…” Both men were convicted of terrorist activities, along with other co-conspirators.
A yellow Ryder van was used to haul 12,000 pounds of explosives to the Murrah building in 1995 as one had in the 1993 bombing in New York City. Timothy McVeigh, described in all reports at the time as a domestic terrorist, was convicted as the driver of the Ryder van of the Oklahoma City bombing and was executed in 2001. Terry Nichols (now serving a life sentence) was the sole convicted co-conspirator, yet reports of the time cited other undetonated bombs as having been removed from the building after the explosion as well as other suspicious activity. John Doe # 2 was an unidentified suspect. Some say he didn’t exist. Others, including Clark Peterson, think they know who he was/is.
When Clark woke up and saw the sky, he knew immediately that everyone else in his office was dead, he had somehow survived, yet was in a precarious position with five floors of tonnage from above that were now beneath and around him. The front third of the building had been blown off. Of the 154 people in that part of the building, only five survived. During the 35 minutes that he was unconscious, Clark was unaware that rescue workers had moved in to search for survivors. When he awoke, Clark did a quick self-assessment and spun his arms around to see if they worked. This image of Clark, wearing a red-striped shirt and spinning his arms while on the pile of rubble, was seen on national news reports later that day. His aunt, knowing that he worked in the Murrah building, learned that he had survived when she saw him on television.
Clark was still sitting on a pile of rubble but felt compelled to move to a safer area. “I saw a ball of concrete suspended by a rebar next to the west wall of the Murrah building. Because it could easily fall from the west part of the building to where I was, I got up, moved away from where it might drop, in an easterly direction.”
A rescue crew member, who was moving a Veterans Administration officer on a stretcher up a ladder to the fifth or sixth floor, saw Clark and told him to sit down. They then pulled him up to safety. He was quickly assigned an identifying bracelet, one of four kinds that classified victims (as he remembered them): dead, critical, with moderate bleeding, or minor and able to talk. Suffering from ash inhalation, bruises and cuts on the upper right side of his head and various other cuts and scratches, Clark received the “minor” bracelet. He was treated at the hospital and released. He had a variety of stitches and remembers the nurse having a hard time finding a clear spot on his right arm for a tetanus shot.
Clark has no idea what protected him from the general carnage caused by tons of concrete collapsing and crushing victims. Only an estimated 80 feet from the blast, he had no damage to his ear drums though the audiologist who examined him a week after the blast found a piece of glass in his right ear.
Listening to the reports of investigations, knowing that there were conflicting reports, independent reports and 23 police affidavits that disagree with the domestic terrorist theory, Clark believes that the account written now as history of the event is “just nuts.” In the book Clark has written about his experience Blasted Onto a Pile of Rubble, he says, “McVeigh and a Middle Easterner came to ‘case the joint’” prior to the bombing. “They posed as job seekers.” This “Middle Easterner” is the mysterious John Doe #2, and Clark identifies him by name.
“I want to tell the truth about the bombing,” he says. “The head of the CIA at the time said bureaucrats like to cut out things that make it more complicated.”
Having labeled the Oklahoma City bombing an act of a domestic terrorism means that the government has closed the book on the case. Clark doesn’t think it’s anywhere near that simple. The former lead FBI investigator of the Oklahoma City bombing who retired in 2006 has read Clark’s book. He has a relative in Hinckley and when he visits there, Clark and he “will talk.”
Clark lived in a motel for six months after the blast. He returned to work full time in 1996 but retired with a medical advisory in 1997. Clark’s other interests, and moving back to his hometown, have helped him heal from the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which resulted from his experience in the bombing. He’s active as a pro-wrestler announcer and booking agent. He has also delved into accounts of the great Hinckley fire of 1894 and the Peshtigo (Wisconsin and Michigan) fire of 1871.
Clark earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, and a Ph.D from Grace Bible College in Morrisville, N.C. He served four years in the United States Air Force and 13 years as civil servant for the U.S. Army. His work has primarily been in radio broadcasting. He received 14 New Idea / Suggestion awards, which are approved ways for the federal government to save money and/or do things more efficiently.
When asked how to best remember the Oklahoma City Bombing, Clark says that it was the worst attack on American soil up until the World Trade Center bombing in 2001. The annual observance of the World Trade Center attack is now known as Patriot Day. The opening event of the Revolutionary War, the battles of Lexington and Concord which coincidentally began on April 19 (1775), is commemorated at Patriots’ Day. Clark would like to see the Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995) added to the Patriots’ Day observance. He has designed a flag for that purpose. He has also written poems concerning terrorism and our nation’s banner, one appearing recently in the Sr. Perspective.