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At Regional Tributes, Universal Anguish

By Deirdre M. Childress and Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 20 1996; Page C01

In a stark security office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters, Mari Barr sat before a microphone and tried not to cry.

"I'm trying to remain very detached here," Barr said yesterday. "I've been avoiding close friends all morning."

A year ago, Barr, a special adviser to HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, helped lead the Washington headquarters response to the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Now, sitting in a small room, she waited to address HUD employees on what she would shortly call "the tragedy that shocked the nation."

Yesterday, as the nation marked the first anniversary of its worst mass murder, federal employees and other groups in the Washington region paused at 10:02 a.m. for a moment of silence at the time the truck bomb exploded.

As David Bauer, a pastor from Winterset, Iowa, said, it was a morning for people to voice their pain and let others share the anguish. He spoke at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Old Town Alexandria, where about 200 people -- most of them clerics -- gathered in white wooden pews.

"Something else was broken apart that day, not just the building crumbling, but our dreams and visions about what our country is about," Bauer said.

While the Old Town group held its service, Barr leaned forward on the metal desk, holding down the buttons on the microphone for the HUD building's public address system with two fingers. She began speaking, her voice echoing throughout the offices and corridors in the 10-story building. Then she read the first of 35 names:

Ted Allen, Diane Althouse, Peter Avillanoza, Andrea Blanton, Paul Broxterman, David Burkett, Donald Burns, Kimberly Clark, Kim Cousins, Diana Day, Castine Deveroux, Susan Ferrell, Judy Fisher, Linda Florence, Juretta Guiles, Thompson Hodges, George Howard, Carolyn Kreymborg.

Near Baltimore, there is a special garden outside the Social Security Administration's national headquarters. It is neither secret nor magical, but reflective, a place to consider loss and pain.

It is encircled by a walk built in 16 sections representing the 16 Social Security employees who were among the 168 victims of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Well before 10:02 a.m., employees streamed out of the 10-building complex and into the garden, still a little brown from the rough winter.

They entered a place that Virginia G. Thompson had avoided visiting all year -- until yesterday.

"I came because I was so moved by the way people are rebuilding their lives," said Thompson, 51, a systems accountant from Woodlawn. "When children are involved, it is just so senseless. I have two grandchildren under 3 years old myself."

She stopped for a few moments and prayed in front of a slab of carnelian granite, a part of the Murrah building laid against the garden's fountain.

Other workers came out of the Arthur J. Altmeyer building to take a turn in the garden they built with $12,800 in donations. It was as if the center of the garden were a magnet rather than a redbud, the official state tree of Oklahoma. One employee left a dozen red roses with a poem, another left a wreath inscribed "Friends Forever." Then came the largest tribute, a four-foot wreath of red roses, white lilies and mistletoe from the employees and their union.

"It was overwhelming. I couldn't believe it happened," said Joanne Rosenkilde, 35, an accountant from Baltimore County. "This terrorism . . . I thought we were sort of immune from all of it. I once worked in the commissioner's office, and we had to be aware of irate people. There were threats we were aware of, but it never came to be."

By 9:45 a.m., about 300 other employees, some teary-eyed and all subdued, stood around the garden's perimeter. They remembered colleagues, Rosenkilde said, who died at work "just doing things that were so innocent."

Richard Allen, Saundra Avery, Oleta Biddy, Carol Bowers, Sharon Chesnut, Katherine Cregan, Margaret Goodson, Ethel Griffin.

When she'd finished addressing her HUD colleagues, Barr sobbed and buried her face in her hands. Then, with the toughest part of her day over, she headed for the cafeteria. Waiting for her there were nine Washington HUD employees, part of the team that went to Oklahoma City after the bombing. They had learned to comfort others, helped the families of HUD's 35 victims, and often cried alone at night in their motel rooms.

It was a reunion of sorts. Exchanging hugs, they held hands and kept the hour-long conversation moving, never dwelling too long on the awful moments of last year. "I am forever changed," Lauretta Grier softly told the group.

Part of the talk, of course, was about the pain of the families they met in Oklahoma City, the families that lost someone.

Teresa Lauderdale, James McCarthy Jr., Betsy McGonnell, Patricia Nix, Terry "Chumard" Rees, Mary L. Rentie, Antonio Reyes, Lanny Scroggins, Leora Sells, John Stewart, Jules Valdez, John Van Ess, David Walker, Michael Weaver, Jo Whittenberg, Frances Williams, Clarence Wilson.

Musical notes pierced the silence of the Social Security garden as trumpeter Bud Weber played "Amazing Grace," "America the Beautiful," and taps during the brief memorial service.

Janice Warden, deputy commissioner for operations, remembered the 16 slain Social Security employees and their co-workers who have been "unstinting in their outpouring of concern."

Warden and John Gage, president of the local union, then placed white roses tied with blue ribbons onto the granite as, again, everyone fell silent. They marked 168 seconds.

As the crowd turned to leave, Paul D. Barnes, regional commissioner for Chicago, looked up at the gray sky and pronounced it perfectly gloomy. "It is such a tragedy, and the clouds just remind me of the tragedy," he said.

Ronald Harding, Raymond Johnson, Derwin Miller, Charlotte Thomas, Michael Thompson, Robert Walker Jr., Julie Welch, Steve Williams.

Staff writer Lena Sun contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Co.

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