!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Helena Garrett
Helena Garrett was a participant or observer in the following events:
A bloodied survivor is helped from the Murrah bomb site. [Source: The Oklahoman]Survivors of the Murrah Federal Building bomb blast in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) begin evacuating. By 9:30, a triage center has been established at the corner of 6th and Robinson Streets. By 10 a.m., 59 survivors have either been rescued from the blasted building or have emerged on their own. The next day, the Washington Post will report: “Workers staggered out of stairwells, blood dripping into their eyes. A woman moaned on the ground, part of her leg apparently missing from the blast. Employees at buildings blocks away reported being thrown from their chairs, windows were shattered, and residents who live 30 miles from downtown reported feeling the powerful vibrations of the blast. Everywhere around the city, people stood in stunned silence, not believing what they had just seen and heard, not comprehending how anyone could have done such a thing.” Physician Carl Spengler, who arrives at the scene a few minutes after the blast to render assistance, tells a reporter: “It’s like Beirut. Everything burning and flattened.” Hours after the explosion, Assistant Fire Chief John Hansen says rescue workers see “many more fatalities in the building that we are working around” while searching for survivors. The task of searching for survivors goes on throughout the day and into the night, interrupted by erroneous reports of a second bomb being spotted and the subsequent evacuation of the scene (see 10:28 a.m. April 19, 1995). An agent of the medical examiner’s office, Richard Dugger, says: “Tomorrow will be the really awful day when everyone starts to get the official notification. That’s going to be a horrible thing to watch.” By 10:15, blood drives for the injured have begun at nearby Tinker Air Force Base and the Oklahoma Blood Institute. At 10:34, a new triage center is established at the corner of NW 3rd Street and Harvey Street. By 10:35, the Department of Defense delivers bomb-sniffing dogs, surgeons, equipment, medivac aircraft, and body bags to the site. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] One mother, Helena Garrett, whose child Tevin is in the Murrah day care facility, runs from the nearby Journal Record building to the devastated Murrah Building to rescue her son, but is not allowed in by police officers. She finds another way in and begins climbing a pile of rubble to get to the day care on the second floor, but a man pulls her back down to the ground, telling her it is not safe for her to try to get to the facility. A few minutes later, people begin bringing dead, dying, and injured children out. Garrett, who knows the children in the facility, helps comfort one dying boy, two-year-old Colton Smith, until he loses consciousness for the last time. Garrett watches, numb and stricken, as the rescuers begin lining the children up on white sheets one by one on the ground. She screams: “Please don’t lay our babies on the glass! We don’t want our babies on the glass!” and a man with a broom sweeps away much of the broken glass on the ground where the rescuers are placing the bodies of the children, crying as he sweeps. Garrett never sees her son alive again; he is not found until April 22. The officials of the funeral home caring for Tevin’s body will convince Garrett not to look at her son’s head, as he is terribly disfigured by a crushing head injury. Instead, she recalls, they will open the lower lid of the casket. She later recalls, “I kissed his feet and his I kissed his legs, and I couldn’t go up higher.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 166-168]
Entity Tags: Murrah Federal Building, Colton Smith, Carl Spengler, Jon Hansen, Washington Post, Tevin Garrett, Oklahoma Blood Institute, US Department of Defense, Helena Garrett, Richard Dugger, Tinker Air Force Base
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Opening statements are presented in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995).
Heavy Security - Security in and around the Byron Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in Denver, where the trial is being held, is tight. Roads and sidewalks approaching the building are blocked off. Special credentials are needed to walk around certain areas inside the courthouse. Pedestrian traffic in and out of the federal office next door is constrained with a heavy police presence. Federal officers look under the hoods of cars and check beneath vehicles with mirrors on the streets surrounding the building. Concrete barriers prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building. Even the nearby manhole covers are sealed shut. [CNN, 4/17/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 274]
Jury Makeup - The jury (see March 31, 1997 and After) is composed of seven men and five women; their identities and personal information have been shielded so they can avoid being sequestered. Six alternate jurors—three men and three women—are also available. The jurors include a retired teacher, a registered nurse, an auto mechanic, a real estate manager, and a store manager who served in the Air Force. Several are military veterans. One said during jury selection that he hopes the trial will not turn McVeigh into another victim: “I believe there have been enough victims. We don’t need another one.” James Osgood, the jury foreman and store manager, believes in mandatory gun ownership. (Like the other members of the jury, Osgood’s identity will not be revealed until after the trial is concluded.) Several expressed their doubts and worry about being able to impose the death penalty if McVeigh is convicted. Some 100 potential jurors were screened to create this jury of 12 members and six alternates. As the trial commences, McVeigh greets the jury by saying, “Good morning.” He will not speak to them again during the trial. Judge Richard P. Matsch begins by saying: “We start the trial, as we are today, with no evidence against Timothy McVeigh. The presumption of innocence applies.” [Washington Post, 4/23/1997; New York Times, 4/23/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Prosecution: McVeigh a Cold, Calculating Terrorist - Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler begins with an emotional evocation of the bombing and the story of one of the victims, Tevin Garrett, a 16-month-old child who cried when his mother Helena Garrett left him at the Murrah Building’s day care center. The mothers could wave at their children through the day care’s glass windows, Hartzler says. “It was almost as if you could reach up and touch the children. None of those parents ever touched their children again while they were alive.” He says of Tevin Garrett’s mother, “She remembers this morning [the morning of the bombing] because it was the last morning of [Tevin’s] life” (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995). Hartzler wastes little time in slamming McVeigh as a “twisted,” calculating terrorist who murdered 168 people in the hope of starting a mass uprising against the US government. McVeigh, Hartzler says, “chose to take their innocent lives to serve his own twisted purposes.… In plain and simple terms, it was an act of terror and violence, intended to serve a selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me. He is the one who committed those murders.” Hartzler says that McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge the federal assault on the Branch Davidian religious compound outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, April 19, 1993 and After, and April 24, 1995). “Across the street, the Ryder truck was there to resolve a grievance,” Hartzler says. “The truck was there to impose the will of Timothy McVeigh on the rest of America and to do so by premeditated violence and terror, by murdering innocent men, women, and children, in hopes of seeing blood flow in the streets of America.” He notes that McVeigh carried an excerpt from the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) that depicts the bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington. Hartzler reads the following line from the excerpt: “The real value of our attack lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” Hartzler also notes the T-shirt McVeigh wore when he was arrested, a shirt that Hartzler says “broadcast his intentions.” On the front was a likeness of Abraham Lincoln and on the back a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Drops of scarlet blood dripped from a picture of a tree. Investigators found traces of residue on McVeigh’s shirt, in his pants pockets, and on a set of earplugs found in his pocket (see Early May 1995 and After). Hartzler reads from a document McVeigh had written on a computer belonging to his sister, Jennifer (see November 1994). In a letter addressed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, McVeigh wrote: “All you tyrannical [expletive], you’ll swing in the wind one day for your treasonous attacks against the Constitution of the United States.… Die, you spineless, cowardice [sic] b_stards” (see May 5-6, 1997). Hartzler says the trial has nothing to do with McVeigh’s beliefs or his freedoms of expression: “We aren’t prosecuting him because we don’t like his thoughts. We’re prosecuting him because his hatred boiled into violence.” Of the innocent victims, Hartzler tells the jury that McVeigh “compared them to the storm troopers in [the popular science fiction movie] Star Wars (see October 21 or 22, 1994). Even if they are innocent, they work for an evil system and have to be killed.” Hartzler moves to preempt expected defense attacks on the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Fortier (see After May 6, 1995, May 19, 1995 and August 8, 1995), on reports that evidence was mishandled by an FBI crime lab (see January 27, 1997), and the failure to identify or apprehend the now-infamous “John Doe No. 2” (see June 14, 1995). Hartzler concludes: “Timothy McVeigh liked to consider himself a patriot, as someone who could start a second American revolution. Ladies and gentlemen, statements from our forefathers can never be twisted to justify warfare against women and children. Our forefathers didn’t fight British women and children. They fought other soldiers, they fought them face to face, hand to hand. They didn’t plant bombs and then run away wearing earplugs” (see Early May 1995 and After) Hartzler returns to the prosecutors’ table; Matsch calls a brief recess.
Defense: McVeigh Innocent, Framed by Lies - McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, tells the jury that McVeigh is innocent, and says that McVeigh’s views fall within the “political and social mainstream.” Like Hartzler, he begins with the story of a mother who lost one of her two children in the bombing, saying that the mother saw someone other than McVeigh outside the Murrah Building before the bomb went off. “I have waited two years for this moment,” Jones says, and says he will prove that other people, not McVeigh, committed the bombing. Jones sketches McVeigh’s biography, focusing on his exemplary military service and the bitter disappointment he suffered in not being accepted in the Army’s Special Forces (see January - March 1991 and After). It was after he left the Army, Jones says, that McVeigh began to steep himself in political ideology. But far from being an extremist, Jones says, McVeigh began to study the Constitution. The shirt he wore when he was arrested bore the motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” but that is not merely a revolutionary slogan, Jones notes: it is the motto of the State of Virginia. McVeigh was “extremely upset” over what he viewed as government abuses of individual liberty, Jones admits, but says it was no different from how “millions of people fear and distrust the government.” McVeigh’s statement that “something big was going to happen” (see Mid-December 1994, March 25, 1995 and After, and April 15, 1995) had nothing to do with the bombing, Jones says, but was merely a reflection of the increasing anxiety and concern he was seeing among his friends and fellow political activists, all of whom believed “that the federal government was about to initiate another Waco raid, except this time on a different scale” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). “[B]eing outraged is no more an excuse for blowing up a federal building than being against the government means that you did it.” Jones spends much of his time attacking Fortier’s credibility as well as the consistency of other prosecution witnesses, saying that they will give “tailored testimony” crafted by the government to bolster its case, and focuses on the reports of crime lab mishandling of key evidence (see April 16, 1997): “The individuals responsible for the evidence… contaminated it… manipulated it, and then they engaged in forensic prostitution,” he says. After the case is done, Jones says, the jury will see that the evidence shows, “not just reasonable doubt, but that my client is innocent.” He closes by reminding the jury, “Every pancake has two sides.” [Washington Post, 4/25/1997; New York Times, 4/25/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275-280; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
For the first day of testimony in the Timothy McVeigh trial (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, August 10, 1995, and April 24, 1997), prosecutor Joseph Hartzler puts on an array of victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. Cynthia Klaver, a Water Resources Board attorney who accidentally caught the sound of the explosion on tape (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995), is the first to testify. The first piece of evidence introduced is the copy of the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) that McVeigh gave to his cousin Kyle Kraus (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). During the trial, the prosecution presents an array of evidence, including computer graphics, video presentations, actual pieces of the Ryder truck used to deliver the bomb, hundreds of pages of documents, phone records and motel registration cards (see Early May 1995 and After), receipts showing the purchase of ammonium nitrate (see May 1, 1995), storage locker receipts (see May 1, 1995 and After), and a large scale model of downtown Oklahoma City, featuring a plastic replica of the Murrah Building that snaps apart. Marine Captain Michael Norfleet, whose wounds suffered in the blast forced him to retire from service, tells of his battle to escape the devastated building. Helena Garrett tells of losing her infant son Tevin in the blast; another victim testifies to seeing Garrett hysterically attempting to find her child in the fire and rubble. She recalls watching rescue workers bringing out the bodies of dead children and wrapping them in sheets. She did not find her son; rescue workers found her son’s body three days later. Hartzler also shows the jury a videotape made by a television cameraman minutes after the attack; the tape shows dazed, bloodied survivors stumbling through smoke and debris. A child’s voice can be heard crying: “Daddy! Daddy!” Many in the courtroom weep during the videotape and the victims’ testimonies, including members of the jury, prosecution lawyers, and even one of McVeigh’s lawyers. The first day of testimony establishes a pattern that will hold throughout the prosecution’s case: begin the day with technical and forensic evidence, and end with emotional testimony from witnesses, survivors, and family members of those slain in the blast. The prosecution presents more victims during the days of testimony later in the week. On the first day, and throughout the trial, McVeigh’s co-defendant, Terry Nichols, sits in the front row of the courtroom, watching the proceedings. [New York Times, 4/26/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 280-281]
The prosecution in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) opens with an array of witnesses, people who either lived through the bombing or who lost family members or friends. Unlike the heart-rending tales told throughout the trial of Nichols’s alleged co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), the stories told today are strictly curtailed in order to restrict emotional reactions from jurors. Four jury members weep anyway during the recountings. Judge Richard P. Matsch, ruling in favor of a defense motion, has precluded “overly emotional” testimony, telling jurors this morning, “You have to consider it and not consider the emotions of it.” Matsch explains that testimony from survivors is being introduced only to establish who had died and how their deaths had affected the performance of the federal government, important elements in the indictment (see August 10, 1995), which charges not only murder but also a crime that interfered with interstate commerce. Witnesses stick closely to the bare facts and eschew the emotional stories and vignettes that were prominently featured during McVeigh’s trial. Even so, the testimony of survivor Helena Garrett, who testified during McVeigh’s trial (see April 25, 1997), moves some jurors to tears as she tells of waiting for rescue personnel to find her infant son, Tevin, who died in the blast. She says one child “looked as if she’d been dipped in blood,” and talks of the “line” made “of our babies” by rescue personnel who brought out the dead and injured children from the blasted Murrah Federal Building. [New York Times, 11/5/1997]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.