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Who first hugged the Oklahoma City bombing's 'healing bear'?

by Juliana Keeping Published: July 17, 2014

A woman from Pennsylvania can’t let go of a “healing bear” from Oklahoma City.

On July 17, 1996, a TWA flight bound for Paris from New York crashed off the coast of Long Island, taking the lives of all 230 people on board. Among the dead were 21 residents of Montoursville, Pa., including 16 members of the town’s high school French club.

Soon after the crash, a small, light brown teddy bear arrived in Montoursville with a note attached. The note explained that the bear had come from Oklahoma City, where it had provided comfort following the 1995 bombing and was now being sent to Pennsylvania to continue its work.

On Thursday, the 18th anniversary of the crash, Erika Grotto thought of the bear again.

Grotto had just graduated high school in Montoursville when the TWA plane crashed. Some of the students who died had been her classmates since preschool. She recalled the outpouring of support for her hometown, including a bear sent from a place that understood heartache: Oklahoma City.

“For weeks after the tragedy, Montoursville received letters and mementos expressing sympathy, comfort, and love,” said Grotto, 35, who now lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and daughter. “Never before or since have I felt so connected to other human beings — united in grief with my town, united by love with the rest of the world.”

Today, Grotto wants to know: Who sent the bear from Oklahoma City, and where is it now? They’re questions she can’t shake.

Seeking a memory

“Over the years, I’ve often wondered what happened to the bear,” she said. “Was he still sitting in the display case in the high school lobby, or had he been sent to one of the many places who could use him in the years since 1996? Last year, I decided to try to find out.”

A Google search revealed that the healing bear had visited tragedies. Montoursville had sent him to another place: Littleton, Colo., after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. Later that year, Columbine forwarded the bear to Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, after a shooting there. The bear continued his journey in 2001, to Santee, Calif., after a shooting at Santana High School.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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