The morning of May 24, 1998 at 3:00 a.m. my eighth grade class rolled into Catlin Grade School from our class trip in Washington D.C. I was every bit of tired, but excited to be home to see my family and friends. I had a tight-knit group of friends from my church youth group, named “Extreme Faith,” at First Assembly of God in Danville. My parents came and picked me up, took me home and as I went to bed, I reminded them to wake me up in time to go to church…no matter how tired I was, I just HAD to go see my friends. So of course, they did just that.
I woke up, got ready and my step-dad drove me into church. (My parents attended a different church – the Catlin Church of Christ.) “I love you!” he shouted as I exited the car and excitedly ran into the church. I was met by a few of my friends, and I remember them telling me all about seeing Godzilla at the movie theatre the night before. The morning had a fresh feeling about it. I was happy to be reunited with my favorite people and I felt a closeness of our group that morning.
We (the youth group) all sat together in the front of the sanctuary like we always did. The service began and that awesome feeling of God, grace and fellowship entered the room as we sang songs and then greeted one another. As we took our seats after fellowship, Pastor Dennis Rogers called for the ushers to come forward and for the congregation to please bow their heads so that we could pray over the offering.
At that very second, many lives were changed.
The loudest “BOOM!” you could ever imagine came over the congregation, and I found myself laying across the top of my chair instead of sitting in it. My ears were ringing and all I could see was the outside sun shining through the white dust of what used to be the wall that was just ten feet to my left. My very first thought was that Jesus had returned, and the Apocalypse had begun. We weren’t so lucky.
After a few seconds, I looked to my right and my boyfriend at the time had the blankest stare on his face that I had only seen in the movies after someone gets shot. I yelled out to him, “Steve!!” but his expression didn’t change. He hit his knees, fell over and I ran to him. All I could see was blood covering the entire left side of his head and shoulder. “Help him!!” I shouted to church members who were searching through the dry wall clouds to check on their families and friends.
I heard Pastor’s voice come over the sound system: “Please everyone calmly exit the back of the church!” His precious voice gave me a very strange feeling of peace and comfort and I followed his orders. As I approached the lobby of the church I noticed a big group of people circling around a table. I walked over and noticed they were circling my friend, Elizabeth. She was severely injured.
As I began to go toward her, I started to feel faint and I turned to look in the full length mirror next to the bathroom. I have a snapshot of this moment in my mind. I remember everyone running and yelling around me, but I was just still – just standing there staring at myself in the mirror from afar.
Suddenly a voice: “You are hurt, you need to get outside and have the paramedics look at you.” And I was ushered to the outside where the parking lot was just as chaotic. Suddenly, a warm trickle started to run down my left arm. I reached up with my hand to feel my head and it didn’t feel like my own face. Blood covered my hands and I quickly fainted onto the hot cement parking lot. “Over here! Over here!” I heard above the sirens of all the First Responders pulling up.
That’s me on the front page of the Commercial News where I landed.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded by angels disguised as Paramedics, EMTs and Firemen. Panic came over me. “Are my friends alive?! Are my friends alive?!” More panic. “Am I going to die?!” The scariest thing that has ever happened to me is when no one answered my desperate questions. In that moment, I began to pray out loud and a clarity and peace came over me. A beautiful woman dressed in white with long brown hair came and sat down on the concrete next to my head and began to talk to me. “Can you please call my mom?!” By nothing short of a miracle, I remembered the phone number to the Catlin Church of Christ office. (My grandmother was the secretary there for years.) The woman called the Catlin church and I was loaded up into the ambulance. I remember the thought crossing my mind that it was kind of cool that I got to ride in an ambulance…I had never been in one before…and suddenly the pain. This was the first moment that I remember realizing that I was severely injured.
From there, all of the memories come in flashes. I remember watching the ceiling in the hospital as I was wheeled in. I remember it being really loud. I remember my mom getting there and finding comfort in hearing her voice. I also remember seeing her face when she saw me and the panic that came over her face. She went pale and had to sit down. I remember staring at the red light in what I assume was the CT scan, and as I was taken out of the machine I remember seeing a sign that said “do not look directly into the red light.” Great. I remember waking up on the ambulance ride over to Carle in Champaign and not being able to move any part of my body and panicking over the fact that there were tubes down my throat. I felt like I was suffocating. From there my next memory comes from a good 24+ hours when I woke up after surgery. My mom was there and I was sharing a room with my friend, Elizabeth.
Then came days, weeks, months, and years of healing. Thirty-three people with injuries – most of them from the youth group…3 of us were severe and sent to Carle. My temporal bone had been fractured and the nerve on that side of my face had been severed. I lost so much blood that I had a blood transfusion. My friends suffered injuries like half an ear missing, holes the size of baseballs in people’s backs and the bottom of a heal being dismembered. No one died that day. I later heard that if the bomb had been placed a quarter of an inch either way then we all would have been blown blocks away.
The bombing doesn’t come up a lot in conversation anymore…but when it does the biggest question I get from people is how it has affected my life. They usually expect to get a negative answer. I’m not going sit here and tell you that it’s all sunshine and rainbows and it hasn’t affected me negatively at all…because it absolutely has. But the biggest thing I took away from that day is that we are never promised tomorrow. I try my very best to live for today every day and to be the most positive I can about it. You might think you have control over your life and when it will be over….but you don’t. All you have control over is how you choose to live each day…so why not make it good?
I hope my story can inspire you to take a step back and recognize that you can’t sit around and wait for life to get better. YOU have to do it. Don’t be afraid of love, don’t be afraid to live. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll try something “next time” or “next year.” Do it now. Because this life is precious…and it’s our job to make it great.
Peace & Love,
Stay up-to-date on what’s going on! Click here & hit “LIKE!”