Tuesday, April 19, 2005

 

Two Bomb Threats - April 19 Anniversary

Kansas Family Faces Two Bomb Threats in One Month

April 19 Makes us Nervous

Today, the tenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, a small group of Feds gathered at a memorial and held a little ceremony. We stood in front of a statue called "Flight" that rests just outside the main entrance to the Bolling Federal Office building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. We shared a very brief prayer, laid some flowers on the ground, and released pink and blue balloons in the air. Most of us had children in daycare here at the time of the bombing.

My family has faced two bomb threats in the last 30 days. No, not threats directed at us personally, but threats against where we work and go to school.

About three weeks ago, I got a phone call while at work. "The school is going to be evacuated. We need you there right away to pick up your child."

I jumped up from my desk and dashed out of my cubicle. I paused only long enough to tell my secretary I had to run because of a bomb threat at school.

You can imagine the alarm my wife felt. We eat lunch together almost every day, and we had just finished when my phone rang.

I drove out to the school -- children were coming out from everywhere. I found Natasha and she climbed into the car. I asked her if her friends had a ride home, and she said yes. The first thing my daughter asked for was some food. The school had been locked down for hours while the authorities searched. Apparently they did find a suspicious package (which later turned out to be nothing). Lunch had been prepared, but not served, because the children were not allowed to leave their classrooms. They do not evacuate because of recent history. Snipers in Kentucky set off a fire alarm in the school there. The door locked behind the children as they evacuated, trapping them in the sniper's sights. So our kids were required to stay put until the order to evacuate was given.

Thankfully, no one and nothing suffered any damage, except perhaps to our sense of security.

So a few weeks later, I took my regular afternoon coffee break. I called my wife (who works in the same building) and left my cubicle. As I left, I noticed one of my co-workers standing in front of the window. I glanced out and saw a handful of uniformed men on the patio of my office building.

My wife and I met; we took a short walk, and returned to our duties. I glanced out the window again, and saw an officer with a dog. I overheard my co-worker saying that standing by the window was "probably not one of the smarter things he'd done." Then I put two and two together, I called Jane and reminded her that her duties sometimes took her over to the other side of the building, away from her window seat. I told her this would be a good time to perform those duties; and to stay away from the windows on the North side of the building.

Ever since April 19, 1995, Jane and I have been conscious of working in a target. The Richard Bolling Federal Office Building is one of the largest civilian federal facilities in the Midwest, the "heart of America," as they like to call it.

For several years after the bombing, the anniversary was an informal holiday for my family. Our children were in the daycare onsite, and we worked in the floors above. A single incident could wipe out the whole family. After the kids started regular school, we relaxed some and quit scheduling leave for that anniversary.

So when I told Jane to work on the other side of the building for a while, she went. Since my shift was up, I left a few minutes later to go get my kids from school.

About 3:30 I got a rather frantic call from Jane. She was walking down the 13 flights of stairs at work; the order to evacuate had been given.

She arrived at home safe and sound a short while later.

We do not make a big fuss over these threats; we do what is prudent to keep our family and ourselves safe. We hope the children are not terrorized, but who knows what kind of hidden insecurities they have? Have evacuations for bomb threats become a routine part of our daily lives, without us really noticing it? Do we accept occasional moments of terror as the price of living the way we do?

We watched the television news coverage and read the newspaper the next day. According to the news reports, a man riding a bicycle rode up onto the patio with a package strapped to his bike. He parked the bike, walked over to the security guards, and announced that he was a terrorist and the package contained a bomb. The guards took him into custody.

The police brought in a bomb sniffing dog. The dog signaled the package might actually be a bomb. The streets were blocked to keep traffic and people away. The police then brought in a robot; the robot poked and prodded the package. After nothing happened, the police set off an explosive device on the package. It turned out there was no bomb.

On April 19, if I stay home from work, if I change my plans, am I being prudent or simply a coward? How do we learn to live with this? Israel lives with it, but we are not a tiny nation surrounded by implacable enemies. Iraq lives with it, but we have no regional supply of teenagers trained to think of suicide as martyrdom. Yet here it is, in the good old U.S. of A.

Virtually all bomb threats are hoaxes. I know this. Statistically, death by auto accident is much more likely for me and my family than death by terrorism. But we still have to treat each threat as if it were real.

I'm fresh out of answers. I'll just have to put my trust in God, and hope his plan for us does not include violent death. But if it does, I pray my faith will be strong enough to accept it. As Jesus prayed in the garden the night before his arrest, "I would that this cup would pass from me."

He also said, "Your will, not mine."

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