Survivor Tree Stands Strong 20 Years After Oklahoma City Bombing

Originally published on April 20, 2015 7:16 pm
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And next we remember a tragedy and also a symbol of resilience. The tragedy happened 20 years ago this weekend when a bomb ripped a hole in downtown Oklahoma City. It killed 168 people and injured several hundred. The victims are going to be honored Sunday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Now, one of the most striking parts of the memorial is a 40-foot tall elm tree. It's come to be known as the Survivor Tree. It's a wide, leafy shade tree that's stood in the parking lot across from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building when that bomb went off.

MARK BAYS: I was in my office building, which is just four miles from here, and our building shook.

GREENE: That's Mark Bays. He works for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, and he spoke to us while he stood underneath the Survivor Tree.

BAYS: One of the cars had blown up, and there was a hood from one of the cars that was on fire up in the crown in the tree.

GREENE: The bomb scorched the tree badly. It left glass and shrapnel stuck in its bark, and a lot of people thought that shrapnel was valuable evidence - valuable enough to cut the tree down. But others fought to save it. A year after the blast, the next spring, the tree was still standing, and it bloomed.

BAYS: It became this tree of hope, this tree of survival.

GREENE: That tree survived with a lot of help from Mark Bays and other volunteers, and it became a focal point of the memorial site. It still blooms every spring.

KARI WATKINS: You begin to realize that it is a time of renewal and refreshing, and it coincides with the anniversary. And I think it stands for everything this community has been through.

GREENE: That's Kari Watkins, the memorial's executive director. On Sunday, like every April 19, the memorial will give away hundreds of seedlings from the Survivor Tree. Thousands are already planted around the country as symbols of hope, the kind of hope that's captured in an inscription that's next to the tree.

BAYS: (Reading) The spirit of the city and nation will not be defeated. Our deeply rooted faith sustains us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.