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THE MCVEIGH VERDICT

Lifting Lid on Memories : O.C. Rescuer Ready to Open Box of Mementos

June 03, 1997|TINA NGUYEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — For two years, a box containing bittersweet mementos from the Oklahoma City bombing remained hidden and untouched in Orange County fire Capt. Scott Brown's home closet. But on Monday, Brown finally felt ready to open the box, filled with letters of gratitude for his work as one of 62 Orange County rescue officials who rushed to help after America's deadliest act of terrorism.

"When I returned from Oklahoma, I taped that box shut. I didn't want to have any reminders of that devastation," said Brown, who worked as a paramedic during the bombing's aftermath. "But today, I'm going to open it, knowing that the verdict will help the families impacted by the bombing move on."

As it did for Brown, Monday's conviction of Timothy McVeigh provided a sudden release of tension for many of those who witnessed the carnage from the 1995 explosion of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

"This being the largest single fatality crime scene on U.S. soil, it was great to see our system bring justice," said Orange County Battalion Chief Don Forsyth, one of the squad leaders during the bombing rescue. "I had doubts about our judicial system after the O.J. [Simpson] trial. But today, it's comforting to know that it is effective."

The guilty verdict does not erase the gruesome images and the fact that 168 lives were lost, some Orange County rescuers said.

"It will never bring back the loved ones who were killed," said fire Capt. Nick Sanchez, who also assisted at the scene. "Those who knew someone in the bombing will always have to sustain that emotional scar. Oklahoma was the most traumatic experience of my [20 years in the fire service], and I was not even directly connected to any of the victims or survivors." During the week that Orange County rescuers were in Oklahoma City, they faced the worst and best of the human race, officials said.

For 12 hours each day, Brown said he treated victims and he watched as bodies were hoisted from the rubble. By evening, virtually every night, local residents and children attached poems and notes of gratitude to teddy bears and left them on his pillow at the rescue station.

"The people of Oklahoma will forever be etched in my mind," said Brown, now a spokesman for the Fire Authority. "That's why the box is so symbolic to me. This thing wasn't going to be opened until the verdict was in."

Times staff writer Michael Granberry contributed to this report.

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