OKLAHOMA CITY — With 168 seconds of silence and the message that goodness can overcome evil, victims of the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history were remembered Tuesday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
About 1,600 people inside First United Methodist Church fell silent for 168 seconds at 9:02 a.m., the moment the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was destroyed 10 years earlier.
Some brought teddy bears and flowers to be placed at the memorial, which includes 168 empty chairs symbolizing the human cost.
"All of us respect you for the way you've borne tragedy over the last decade and for your great devotion to the memory of those who died here," Vice President Dick Cheney told survivors and loved ones.
"Goodness overcame evil that day," he said.
"All humanity can see you experienced bottomless cruelty and responded with heroism. Your strength was challenged and you held firm. Your faith was tested and it has not wavered."
Security was heavy at the church next to the memorial, where the speeches were given.
Former President Clinton, who was in office at the time of the bombing, reminded mourners that "by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy. The tomorrows come almost against our will. And they bring healing and hope, new responsibilities and new possibilities."
Clinton chuckled when he mentioned the Survivor Tree, the elm that was heavily damaged in the bombing and is now a leafy green reminder of it.
"Boy, that tree was ugly when I first saw it [in 1995], but survive it did," Clinton said.
"Trees are good symbols for what you did. You can't forget the past of a tree. It's in the roots, and if you lose the roots you lose the tree. But the nature of the tree is to always reach for tomorrow. It's in the branches."
In a statement, President Bush said Oklahoma City "will always be one of those places in our national memory where the worst and the best both came to pass."
One bus brought 53 people to the ceremony, all wearing T-shirts with LaKesha Levy's photo on the front and the words "a shared experience."
Levy's aunt, Gail Batiste, said friends and family came from all over the country to remember the outgoing 21-year-old who had gone to the building that morning to get a Social Security card.
The bomber, Timothy J. McVeigh, was convicted of federal conspiracy and murder charges and executed on June 11, 2001.
Co-conspirator Terry L. Nichols is serving multiple life sentences on federal and state charges.