OKLAHOMA CITY – It's been 18 years since a truck bomb detonated outside Oklahoma City's federal building, but family members of the 168 people killed in the attack said Friday their memories of the carnage and their sense of loss are as vivid as ever following the Boston Marathon explosions.
"It opens that wound," said Dawn DeArmon, whose mother, Federal Employees Credit Union employee Kathy Leinen, was killed in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Joyce Cleveland's daughter, Social Security Administration worker Pamela Cleveland Argo, also died in the bombing. She said Monday's explosions in Boston, which killed three people and injured more than 180, stirred up past emotions and reminded her how difficult it's been to cope with Pamela's death.
"We just know what they're going through and what they've got to go through," Cleveland said. "They've got a long way to go."
She and DeArmon were among 800 people who crowded into a church near the former site of the federal building to remember those killed, those who survived, and search and rescue workers who sifted through the rubble from the nine-story structure for weeks after the attack.
Speakers at the Oklahoma City ceremony remembered Boston even as they honored their own bombing victims.
"Our hearts break for our fellow Americans," Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said. "We grieve for those who have been killed."
U.S. Rep. James Lankford said many bombing survivors and victims' family members believe they have recovered from their sense of loss until tragedies like Boston occur.
"We see the coverage and the footage and all the raw emotions come back again. And we realize it's still extremely tender to us," Lankford said.
Boston filled people's conversations afterward, too.
"You turn on the TV and you're living this over and over," said Jannie Coverdale, whose two grandsons, 5-year-old Aaron Coverdale and 2-year-old Elijah Coverdale, were among 19 children who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. "Even if we wanted to forget, we can't forget."
Family members placed flowers and mementos on empty chairs meant to honor each bombing victim at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum on the federal building's former site.
DeArmon, her 1-year-old granddaughter, Madison, and other relatives laid bouquets and a photograph of DeArmon's mother on the chair that bears her name. DeArmon said it "breaks my heart" that Madison will never meet her great-grandmother.
"She's going to miss out on an important person in her life," DeArmon said.
The Oklahoma City federal building was destroyed when a truck containing more than 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil exploded next to it. The bombing remains the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history and was the deadliest on U.S. soil before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Federal prosecutors said Army veteran Timothy McVeigh planned the bombing as revenge for the deadly standoff between the FBI and Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, that killed more than 70 people on April 19, 1993 — exactly two years earlier.
McVeigh was convicted on federal murder and conspiracy charges in 1997 and executed in 2001.
His Army buddy, Terry Nichols, was convicted on federal and state bombing-related charges and is serving multiple life sentences in a federal prison.