Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Oklahoma Bombing

April 14, 1996

Note: This is an exclusive interview given by Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields, marking the one-year anniversary of the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Chris Fields and Scott Schulte have remained friends since working on this story.

As he braces for the first anniversary of the blast that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City,

Firefighter Chris Fields has plenty of reasons to hate prime suspect Timothy McVeigh.
But Fields isn't the kind of guy to hate anyone.

Fields is the firefighter who left a lasting image with the world when he was photographed cradling the lifeless body of 1-year-old Baylee Almon last April 19.

Last week, Fields spoke about his life after the blast and for the first time expressed his feelings about McVeigh and other suspect, Terry Nichols.

"The bombing didn't change my personality, but it changed the way I look at life, "Fields said. "Simple things like getting up in the morning and spending time with my family and doing my job as a firefighter is what I love to do and what matters to me."
Fields, 31, said he doesn't wallow in hatred.
"I don't believe in hate," Fields said.

But he wonders what kind of "warped mind" could commit such a dastardly deed. He also believes the suspects intended to kill on a large scale.

"These guys knew exactly what they were doing," Fields said. "They could have blown the building apart in the middle of the night and caused much less death and injury, but they chose to do it at 9 in the morning when everyone was there, including the children."

"They must have been so miserable with themselves and that it is sad."

While Fields said he has healed over the last year through the comfort of friends, family, colleagues, and hundreds of strangers, April 19 will be a tough day.
"I'm really looking forward to the 20th, because then it won't be the 19th anymore."

Fields, who is married to Cheryl Fields, 27, and has a son, Ryan, 3, will attend a memorial service on the anniversary of the tragedy with other rescue-team members from throughout the country.

The next day, he and other rescuers will relax at a private picnic, where they will be sheltered from the media.

"It is important for all of us to have this time together," Fields said. "We became very close through the bombing. Having the picnic will be a good way to help our healing process."

The picture of Fields holding Baylee's limp body is emblazoned in the minds of Americans, much like the image of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket. Last week, the photo, taken by a freelance photographer, won journalism's highest award Ð the Pulitzer Prize.

Since Fields has lived what was in the picture, Baylee's image is etched in his heart.
He came to cradle Baylee in his arms about 30 minutes into the rescue operation, in answer to a frantic call for help.

"I have a critical infant!" was the cry heard from Oklahoma City police Sgt. John Avera.
Avera handed Baylee to Fields. It was during those dramatic moments, as Fields was about to head for an ambulance, that the famous photo was shot.

Fields, who desperately searched Baylee for signs of life during the short run to the ambulance, placed Baylee on a blanket when he got to the ambulance and hoped paramedics would get vital signs.

"There was nothing there (no vital signs), but I was hoping that it was because I was moving," Fields recalled. "It was horrible, but I didn't have time to think about it. All of us were forced to only think about rescuing."

Baylee, who had celebrated her first birthday the night before the blast, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Fields keeps a picture Ð a happy picture Ð taped up in his locker at the fire station.
Fields still remembers details of April 19, like they were yesterday.

He said he and fellow firefighters felt the explosion at 9:02 a.m.

"We were in the station, and the explosion shook the building, and the noise was unbelievable," Fields said. "We just followed the smoke, and when we got on the scene, we just went to work."

But nothing prepared them for what they saw.

"When they first arrived, the smoke from burning cars was so thick they couldn't see the building.

As the smoke cleared, they were in awe by the degree of destruction.
"We were all sort of shocked by what we saw," Fields said. "But we couldn't stand there and stare at the building. We all went back to helping the people."

One of the most emotional moments in the aftermath was when Fields met Baylee's mother, Aren Almon, 23, the day after the explosion.

"I was scared to death to meet her (Almon)," Fields said. "I didn't know if she was going to blame me for not doing more of what."

To his relief, Almon met Fields with a tearful thank you.

"We cried together and hugged," he said. "It was an emotional time for both of us."

Almon and Fields have become friends. Almon and Cheryl Fields, the firefighter's wife, are particularly close.

"Through it all, we have never actually discussed Baylee," Fields said. "Aren has never asked me questions and I've never pushed it. I think it's best that way."

While the use of the now famous photograph is in the hands of the photographer, any merchandising ideas must first be cleared through Fields and Almon. Since some have tried to exploit the picture by slapping it on a T-shirt or coffee mug, Fields and Almon have hired an attorney.

"I don't have a problem with the picture being used for news purposes," Fields said. "But when people just want to make money for themselves, I think that is wrong."

Fields believes McVeigh and Nichols, whose case is getting under way in Colorado, are guilty.
And while hating isn't in his nature, Fields despises the actions of those who committed the bombing.

"I don't understand any of the militia people, "Filed said. "They speak out against a government that gives them the right to act the way they doÉand then they do something like this."

"It just doesn't make sense."

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