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Oklahoma City Braces for Execution

The city that once tallied Timothy McVeigh's damage with a daily body count began counting down the minutes Sunday to his last breath.

Some survivors did it by visiting the site of the Oklahoma City bombing. Residents did it by remembering the tremor of McVeigh's bomb. Relatives of the dead came with flowers to place on the 168 empty chairs set up in their memory at ground zero.

"Maybe it's almost a sigh of relief as much as anything," survivor Richard Williams said at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, trying to envision how the city of McVeigh's destruction might feel after the bomber's execution early Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.

Williams has counted the stitches it took to put his body back together after the bombing: 150. And the embedded shards of glass that have since worried their way out of his skin: about 20.

As an assistant manager of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, he counted many friends among McVeigh's victims.

"I think I'm ready," he said. "I'm ready for this part of the journey to be over.

McVeigh's bomb weighed 7,000 pounds; his target stood nine stories.

The explosion on April 19, 1995, rattled the barns at the Oklahoma City horse track where Venga Cox worked. The horses on the track went so wild "it looked like a rodeo," she recalled.

Cox now works in an apartment building a block from the bomb site. She doesn't favor the death penalty, but wished away the minutes Sunday to McVeigh's execution.

"They're dragging it out and it just keeps bringing it back and bringing it back," she said.

It didn't take knowing the dead to sink this city of more than 506,000 into sadness. Funeral processions marked the highways for weeks.

"It was just devastating," said Roger Ford, manager of a funeral home that buried 21 of the dead.

Five blocks. That's all that separated Clif Thomas from McVeigh's bomb. He can still remember how it rocked his pickup truck so violently that he thought he had hit something.

Now a taxi driver, Thomas found himself outside the bomb site Sunday. His fares talked anxiously of the execution.

"There's the general opinion it will put some finality to this, that justice is done," he said. Then he pointed over his shoulder to the tourists flowing to the memorial, "but it's never going to rest. Just look."

Kimberley Ritchie stepped through the gates that frame the site of the destruction. In her arms: Eighteen white roses for the co-workers she lost in the Federal Employees Credit Union.

Outside the memorial, 42 teddy bears hung on one-half of the memorial's fence, a reminder of the 19 children who died.

Two of the littlest survivors, Rebecca and Brandon Denny, ages 8 and 9, knelt inside with their mother and said a prayer. Rebecca hugged one of the small empty chairs memorializing one of her daycare playmates.

Rudy Guzman traveled with his parents from California to stand once more on the site where his brother, Marine Capt. Randolph Guzman, also is represented by an empty chair.

"There's no closure for me," he said. "To me, closure is forgetting everything that has happened."

But he took solace in one thing. After McVeigh's execution, the families of the 168 people who died won't have to listen to their killer anymore.

One man sat in Terre Haute, Ind., awaiting death. And a clock was ticking toward zero.