Nineteen Aprils have passed since Sharon Coyne grabbed the hand of a co-worker and ran. Ran out of the Federal Court House where they worked. Ran across the street to the Murrah Building where smoke was rising.
She ran to try and get to her daughter.
Jaci Rae was at the America’s Kids daycare.
Seven agonizing days later, rescue workers found the 14-month-old’s body, and Sharon’s life would never be the same.
This April, she will run again through the streets of Oklahoma City, but this time, it will be in the half marathon at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. The event will be demanding. The day will be emotional.
Just being near the memorial is difficult for Sharon.
“I know that there are family members ... who have been able to remain involved,” she said. “But I really couldn’t. It was too much. It would consume my every thought and every emotion.”
But Sunday, she will run in memory of Jaci. She will run, too, so that others might know about her daughter.
Sharon Kidd was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Moore, but when she was 19 years old, she decided to venture into the world and joined the Army. She wanted to be a Russian linguist. The Cold War had yet to thaw. The Berlin Wall still stood. That meant there was plenty of intrigue involved in that kind of work.
During her training, Sharon met Scott Coyne. He also wanted to be a Russian linguist, and they just kept getting stationed in the same places.
“It was fate,” Sharon said.
They married in 1991 while stationed in Germany, where the Berlin Wall had recently come down. A couple years later, they finished their active duty requirement, decided to join the reserves and moved back to the States.
Before settling permanently in Oklahoma, they spent some time visiting Scott’s family in Florida. It was so much warmer and stickier there than it had been in Germany that when Sharon started feeling ill, she chalked it up to the climate change.
Instead, she was pregnant.
Sharon and Scott decided that they weren’t going to find out the baby’s gender beforehand. Scott wanted a boy. And in an attempt not to get her hopes up for a girl, Sharon convinced herself that she was having a boy.
Even as Sharon was prepped for a Cesarean section — complications late in what had been an otherwise healthy pregnancy necessitated a C-section — a nurse looking at the monitors commented that it looked like they’d be having a boy.
Instead, Jaci Rae was born on Feb. 9, 1994.
Sharon was thrilled. She treasured the relationship she had with her mom, so she loved the opportunity to have the same connection with her daughter.
Jaci loved being held by her mama. Her dada, too. Actually, she loved being held by just about anyone. She was never shy, and her big blue eyes made her impossible to resist.
A few months after Jaci was born, Sharon got a job at the Federal Court House working as a file clerk. She always wanted to work for the federal government; her mom had been a longtime federal employee, and when her dad got sick, her mom’s co-workers had been so good to their family.
Jaci went to an in-home daycare for several months, but Sharon put her on the waiting list at America’s Kids. It was right across the street from her work. It would save so much time if she could drop off Jaci there. And if Sharon wanted to visit her during the day, she could.
In late March, America’s Kids called. It had an opening for Jaci.
Three weeks later, that explosives-filled truck blew up right outside the daycare.
Sharon felt the explosion. Heard it, too.
She didn’t know what it was, but when she and her co-workers were led out of the court house, she could see the black smoke rising from the other side of the Murrah Building. Co-worker and friend Kari Butler was standing beside her.
“Jaci is in the daycare,” Sharon said.
Kari grabbed her hand, and together, they ran across the street to see if they could get to the daycare.
People walked toward them covered in blood and sheet-rock dust, but at least they were walking. That was a good sign, right?
Sharon and Kari never got to the daycare. Too much debris. Too many first responders.
They were eventually pointed to the First Christian Church. They waited for information, for news, but what they saw on television was gut-wrenching. They saw the devastation. They saw the evil.
Eventually, they decided to drive to several hospitals in search of Jaci. Maybe someone had found her. Maybe she was somewhere asking for her mama, needing someone to hold her.
That night after Sharon returned to the church and her family arrived, they finally made the agonizing decision to go home. As they made their way onto the highway, Sharon could better see the collapsed side of the Murrah building.
“And because it had happened at 9 and it was almost 9 when we were going home that night, I knew that she was in a dirty diaper and it had begun to rain,” Sharon would say when she testified in the case against Terry Nichols. “And I thought that maybe she was exposed to the rain and that she was hungry and that she wanted me.”
A week later, Sharon and Scott got the news that Jaci’s body had been found in the rubble.
“I was very lucky,” Sharon said during her testimony. “I got to hold Jaci.”
A beautiful receiving blanket made by one of Sharon’s friends wrapped and covered Jaci’s body.
“She made my entire life complete,” Sharon said, “and she filled any hole I had left.
“And now, it’s just gone.”
Reminders of Jaci were everywhere. On TV. In music. All around the neighborhood.
There were tulips at the neighbor’s house, and every time they bloomed, they reminded Sharon of the time that Jaci toddled over to them. Sharon was sure Jaci was going to grab them and pull them out of the ground.
Instead, she just touched each one of them gently.
Finally, all the reminders were more than Sharon could bear. She and Scott left Oklahoma and moved to Florida. Family and friends understood their decision, but even though Sharon and Scott absolutely knew they needed a fresh start, they still felt shame.
“I didn’t necessarily want to leave,” Sharon said, “but I knew in my heart I absolutely could not stay.”
So, they left, hoping to remember their baby but forget the bombing.
But as they started a new chapter in Florida, friends in Oklahoma stayed in touch. They called. They emailed. Sharon heard every message and read every word, but most of the time, she didn’t reply.
“I absolutely wanted to know what was going on at home and in memory of Jaci,” Sharon said. “I just didn’t have the courage to stay and be involved.”
For more than a decade, Sharon ignored those friends in Oklahoma. She admits that she did everything she could to stay out of touch.
Then in 2011, Kari, the friend who’d held her hand and stayed by her side on the day of the bombing, emailed her and asked if she would run a half with her at the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon in 2012. Kari had stayed in regular contact, but Sharon had kept her at arm’s length like everyone else.
“Sharon, this is the least you could do,” she said to herself after reading Kari’s email. “She keeps reaching out. You keep ignoring her.”
Besides, Sharon had always been somewhat athletic. She played slow-pitch softball in high school. She did physical training in the Army.
“I could probably do half,” she thought. “I could probably do half a mile.”
Sharon replied to Kari and said she’d do the race, then went to the marathon’s website. That’s when she realized that a half wasn’t half a mile but rather a half marathon — 13.1 miles.
Sharon frantically emailed Kari. A half is 13.1 miles. Did she know that?
Indeed, Kari did. While Sharon had been in Florida, Kari had become a runner. She promised Sharon that she could do the half marathon. Kari also promised that she would stay by her side and never leave her alone.
Sharon finally agreed, on one condition — “That we cross the finish line hand in hand just like we were that awful morning.”
Sharon and Kari finished the half marathon two years ago, though Sharon says she has never had her legs feel worse or wanted a cigarette more than when they crossed the line.
Since that day, Sharon has done a couple more half marathons in addition to 5Ks, tough mudders and warrior dashes. So when Kari called her up and wanted to run the half in Oklahoma City again this year, Sharon agreed.
As she signed up, she saw that she could get special green shoelaces if she raised at least a dollar for every mile she would run. Every dollar would go to benefit the memorial. Surely her husband would donate. If not, she could brow-beat her father-in-law into giving at least $13.
She decided to name her team “Sister Christian.” That’s the name of an old Night Ranger song beloved by Sharon and her twin sister, Nancy, who also worked at the Federal Court House when the bombing happened and lost several friends as well as her niece. Nancy has attended every bombing anniversary ceremony. She goes to the memorial, calls Sharon and holds out her cell phone so that her sister can hear the church bells ring and the 168 names read.
Sharon has always marveled at the people who oversee those ceremonies and the memorial. They didn’t know her daughter, never met her, never held her, but every day, they endure the sorrow of the bombing to keep alive the memory of Jaci and the rest of the victims.
Sharon likens those folks to people who work in hospice or neonatal intensive care units.
“It takes a special person,” she said. “I am so glad that they’re there.”
But Sharon knows that it takes money for upkeep at the memorial. She suspects those funds may be harder to come by as time passes. So, given the chance to raise a little money for the memorial while running the half marathon, she eagerly signed up Team Sister Christian.
What happened next shocked her.
Her husband put out the word on Facebook that Sharon was doing a fundraiser. She had a goal of $500, and Scott included a link and asked family and friends to consider donating.
More than 50 people have. Some gave $10 or $25. Others $50. A few $100.
There are people who knew Sharon during her days in the Army. Some have worked with her, both in Oklahoma and Florida. Some know her through daughter Shelby’s softball team.
And Sharon is quite certain that until many of them learned about why she was running, they had no idea about Jaci Rae or their family’s connection to the bombing.
“I haven’t wanted to talk about this,” Sharon said of that chapter of her life. “What I’ve realized after this is they’ve always been there. They get up and go to work just like I do. They were my friends before this.”
And they still are.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Team Sister Christian had raised $2,253 and is one of the marathon’s top fundraisers this year.
“I never ever expected the response that I got,” Sharon said via telephone from her home in Cape Coral, Fla. “Never. And I am so grateful.”
It makes her feel a bit guilty that she hasn’t done more for the memorial before, but the truth is, she still struggles being this involved. She has flashbacks. She loses focus at work. She grinds her teeth at night.
But over these past couple years, she has come to better realize that people are there for her, running beside her, holding her hand.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.