Morgan Merrell stood at the lectern Thursday during the remembrance ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, her image clear in the reflecting pool before her.
She was only 2 years old when her mother, Frankie Ann Merrell, was killed in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, exactly 17 years ago.
Now, she's a freshman at Oklahoma City University. The 19-year-old is just four years younger than her mom was when her mom lost her life while a teller at the Federal Employees Credit Union.
It was a bombing that resulted in the deaths of 168 people.
On Thursday, Morgan Merrell emphasized the importance of not only reflecting but of honoring those who died, who survived and who participated in rescue and recovery efforts.
She told the estimated 2,200 people gathered at the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, “Yes, I was young, although I still have the right to ask why she was gone.
“Growing up without her was frustrating because of the fact that I never got to know who she was or what she would have been like,” Morgan Merrell said. “All I had were the memories that others shared with me. I loved hearing those memories, and I still do to this day. This helped me realize how much I relate to her although I was not fully satisfied.”
So she decided to keep the story of yesterday alive both today and tomorrow by becoming more involved at the national memorial and the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. She said this has helped her feel closer to her mother and to others. Merrell said it's important to remember and to share the impact it has had on so many.
“And it's about telling the story of something that we will truly never forget,” she said.
The remembrance ceremony included the reading of the mission statement of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum by Christopher Nguyen. On April 19, 1995, Nguyen was one of six children in the America's Kids Child Development Center who survived the blast at the Murrah Building. The 22-year-old is on track to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in business marketing from the University of Oklahoma.
At 9:02 a.m., the ceremony included “168 Seconds of Silence.”
The ceremony also included the Edmond North High School Orchestra providing music; Marty Grubbs, senior pastor of Crossings Community Church, giving the invocation; words of both encouragement and remembrance from Gov. Mary Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; and the always moving reading of the names of those 168 individuals who died.
There were flowers on the chairs in the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial, tears and hugs, the kind meant to last 17 years.
Leaves of the Survivor Tree bounced gently on the April breeze, and two mallard ducks moved down the reflecting pool. It was a day not only with its own memories, but it was certainly a time for loving memories that can never be taken from family and friends. As the 168 names were read, such was evident in the words, “my friends,” “my brother,” “my mother,” “my sister,” and “my father.”
Gary Pierson, president and chief executive officer of The Oklahoma Publishing Company, spoke during Thursday's ceremony as chairman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.
“As Oklahoma City has moved forward at an astonishing pace, these grounds permanently stand vigil as evidence of not just the worst domestic terrorist attack on American soil,” he said, “but also the day the entire world stopped to witness how the citizens of Oklahoma insisted that good triumph over evil.
“The courage and resilience that sprang from these ashes are a testament to the strength and character of our great community.”
Just before the reading of the 168 names at the end of the remembrance ceremony, Charity Logan sang “We Are.”
Included were the words, “Fight the shadows; conquer death; make the most of the time we have left.”