As he sat down at a computer terminal in the Social Security Administration office of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, he did not hear the boom of the explosion. He could not know that its origin was a Ryder rental truck parked just feet from the office’s reception area.
“Different people have different experiences of the bombing. Some people remember the noise, and I don’t,” Purifoy recalled. “I saw out of the monitor I was sitting at — I think I saw a reflection of the blast on the screen.”
Seventeen years later, the museum built to remember the 168 lives lost sits beside that tragic site.
In May, the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation unveiled plans for a host of updates and renovations to the museum, including technology upgrades, the addition of bomber Timothy McVeigh’s getaway car and the construction of a scenic overlook — all contingent on a multimillion-dollar fundraising campaign: The 9:03 Fund.
That campaign has raised $7.5 million. Kari Watkins, Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum executive director, said the amount is halfway to $15 million needed for capital improvements and growing the endowment.
The museum and memorial’s annual budget totals $3.3 million. Sixty percent of that comes courtesy of admission fees and museum store sales. Private fundraising secures the remainder.
Mike Turpen, co-chair of The 9:03 Fund, credits much of that success to Oklahomans sharing the same attitude he so colorfully holds: “If you ain’t givin’, you ain’t livin’.”
“I believe the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is sacred ground,” Turpen said. “It is the heart and soul of Oklahoma City.”
Detailing the crime
Once the coffers are full, the next phase begins with more architectural and conceptual renderings. The end goal is to complete renovations in time for the bombing’s 20th anniversary.
Among those closely involved with the museum, the most highly anticipated changes are those that will aid its storytelling mission, including a new emphasis on the criminal prosecutions of McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols.
“Now there’s a whole generation that doesn’t know about the story, and it is a common question that volunteers get in the museum all the time:
‘Why did they do this?’” said Purifoy, who serves on the memorial’s Board of Trustees. “There’s a whole group of younger people who have no idea why they did what they did.”
When the museum was initially designed, organizers made a a conscious decision to weight the narrative of the criminal investigation and perpetrators less than the stories of the victims.
Additionally, at that time the investigations were ongoing and evolving and could be explained to the public only “vaguely,” Watkins said.
Now, museum officials hope to address that part of the story through the exhibition of oral histories of prosecutors, defense teams, judges and jury members, as well as new artifacts.
The most prominent of those new additions will be easily recognizable: McVeigh’s getaway car, a 1977 Mercury Marquis.
“I think the biggest growth for us moving forward is teaching the justice story,” Watkins said. “Even today, it’s still the largest criminal act tried in American history.”
When the museum opened 12 years ago, it did so in a world that still hadn’t seen an onslaught of technological marvels. Today televisions are slimmer, videos smoother, phones more sentient. To illustrate the breadth and scope of the bombing, its victims, its trials and its aftermath, technology upgrades are long overdue.
The 9:03 funds will usher in modernized monitors and digitized videos.
There are designs for interactive exhibits like a touchscreen mapping table where visitors can follow along with the FBI’s investigation.
“We know people are using technology in every way they can,” Watkins said.
“You want to use the same tool to tell your story.”
In this building, there is no shortage of stories to tell. The museum hopes only to be able to tell them more thoroughly, Watkins said.
Board member Jeff Weaver, a high school sophomore in 1995, lost his father in the tragedy. Michael Weaver was an attorney for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In a post-9/11 environment, the mission of the museum has never been more important, Jeff Weaver said. And these changes will keep it “relevant” for the next generation.
The change he most looks forward to — and the one visitors are most likely to notice first — is the planned second-story overlook that will connect the inside of the museum to the outside memorial.
“Right now, it doesn’t visually connect,” Weaver said.
What all those involved hope does connect is the importance of remembering a tragedy but also a resilience. “The memorial has been built from pennies to million dollar gifts. Everyone can have a stake in this place,” Watkins said. “It is a symbol of Oklahoma.”