On April 19, 1995, I felt like a hole was torn through my heart. The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City had been bombed in the worst act of domestic terrorism. Rescue efforts were undertaken by local, state, federal and worldwide agencies, and donations were received from across the country. Psychologists had to undergo therapy themselves as they treated clients whose souls were seared by the tragedy. But the world helped Oklahoma City, and Oklahomans aided one another.
On May 3, 1999, a record-breaking EF-5 tornado with a top wind speed of 302 miles per hour struck my hometown of Moore, Oklahoma.
Fourteen years later on May 20, 2013, another tornado that was given a preliminary rating of EF-4 followed nearly the same path as the 1999 tornado. I had to go home to see my family.
On May 31, 2013, I drove down, though my mother had texted me saying not to travel because, she said, weather forecasts were predicting a tornado as strong as the 1999 one. Because of the arrangements I had scheduled at work, I had to drive down. As I approached Oklahoma City, a tornado was tearing through the area ahead of me. I made it through debris and detours until I was one block away from home. The power was out in my neighborhood, and I could not see the flash flood crossing the street from an overflowing creek until I was in it. My car stalled. Immediately, a couple of kids knocked on my window and yelled, “Put it in neutral and we’ll push you out!” They did. When I parked my car, a woman ran out of the house I was parked in front of and asked me if I needed to come in. I thanked her and told her that my mom’s house was a block away. I walked home.
Those kids helped me. Understand that the creek was raging, and how they got me out without being washed away themselves, I do not know. But it’s what we all do in Moore. We help one another through the worst times.
It’s what human beings everywhere do.
The tragedy of others is not an opportunity for the Westboro Baptist Church to stand idly by and hold signs with hateful messages such as “God Hates Moore”; it is an opportunity for the Westboro Baptist Church to help remove debris that has trapped men, women, children.
But the WBC chose to enter my hometown and protest in front of Central Junior High, which has been housing students from the Plaza Towers Elementary School that was destroyed by the May 20 tornado. Nine children were killed.
The WBC had a permit to picket for 30 minutes. It was lucky to have lasted eight minutes. That’s how long it was before Moore residents crossed the picket line and forced members of the Westboro Baptist Church to run for their cars. Police intervened, but no arrests were made.
And that is the kind of reception the WBC will receive anytime it wants to picket a place that is helping out children who lost classmates in a deadly storm.
I attended Mass at St. Andrew Church after the May 31 tornado. As with many buildings in Moore, St. Andrew didn’t have any electricity. But it did have power. Father Jack said, “We are not going to take up a collection today. We have received so many donations that we are going to help you.” He went on to say that the church was offering to pay the deductibles on insurance for houses and automobiles for members of the congregation.
No electricity but a lot of power. That is how a church responds after a disaster.
In the future, if the Westboro Baptist Church wants to help the residents of Moore, its aid will be welcomed, though understandably met with skepticism until it proves itself.
Otherwise, the Westboro Baptist Church can expect the very same reception it received this time.