Murrah Bombing Child Survivor Moves On, Reflects
By Kirsten McIntyre, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- When the Murrah Building Bombing's blast went off, lives were changed forever, including the youngest Oklahomans.
Even if they weren't physically injured many children suffered emotional pain from the tragedy.
From the rubble emerged a woman who reached out to help and continues to do so worldwide. Walking across the OU campus Chris Nguyen looks like any other college student. But there's nothing ordinary about the young man, he's actually a walking miracle.
"I don't remember anything about the bombing itself," Nguyen said.
He has no memory of April 19, 1995, the darkest day in Oklahoma's history. Chris was just a 4-year-old and was inside the day care center in the Murrah Building. He's one of only six children who survived the bombing.
"In a way, I think it's more of a blessing that I don't remember, it wouldn't help me at all," said Nguyen. "Psychological torment that goes along with the images if I remembered."
Yet, despite no memory the experience was traumatic. For two years after the tragedy, Nguyen slept in his parent's room.
"I was told that my mom told me I used to scream at night, night terrors, I had memories of the day in my dreams," Nguyen said.
Nguyen's parents got him counseling with Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a licensed clinical psychologist. She now lives in Ohio and spoke to NEWS 9 through Skype. After the bombing, she found herself helping dozens of children.
"So, my work spread out and gave me an opportunity to work with a variety of children with a variety of different needs," Gurwitch said.
Besides working with young bombing survivors, Gurwitch counseled children from the nearby YMCA. Many of those children were severely injured by flying debris. She spent about 18 months helping with their recovery.
"Parents reporting they didn't want to sleep in their own bed, startling if there was a loud noise or siren, so we saw much of that," Gurwitch said.
Gurwitch says it was important to help parents understand what their children were experiencing wasn't unusual and to give them coping skills on how to handle what had happened.
"I think Oklahoma City really did begin to move the field of understanding, the impact of traumatic events such as the Oklahoma City Bombing on children," Gurwitch said.
Gurwitch also worked with children who were emotionally in pain. These children were Oklahoma school children who had watched coverage of the tragedy.
"One of the biggest messages we give families after a tragedy is it's important to monitor or turn off a lot of coverage," Gurwitch said.
Since the bombing, Gurwitch has spent much of her time working to understand the impact of trauma and disaster on children. She's now considered one of the top experts in her field. Besides sharing what she's learned with others, she also responds to disasters nationally and worldwide. Among them: 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina.
"People really do look at Oklahoma City as a gold standard in where does the city, the community, step forward," Gurwitch said.
Now on this 15th Anniversary, Gurwitch says she encourages Oklahomans to reflect on the past but to continue moving forward by setting goals.
"The biggest thing we can do is figure out, 'How can I take what happened?' not that we don't realize that it can be one of the worst things that we ever experience, but, 'How do I take what happened and figure out, how do I grow from that? What do I want to accomplish because of what happened to me?" Gurwitch said.
For Chris Nguyen, he's learning to do just that. Although, he'll reflect on the tragedy on April 19, he'll continue working hard in college and planning for his bright future.
"I didn't let the bombing control me," said Nguyen. "It is a part of me, as I said, but it doesn't control who I am," Nguyen said.
Besides speaking and traveling to share her knowledge, Dr. Robin Gurwitch has written materials dealing with terrorism and disasters that are currently being used by the American Red Cross and the U.S. Homeland Security.
Each year Gurwitch leads a seminar for Oklahoma teachers in conjunction with the anniversary week. This year's event, which is free, filled up within an hour of sending out e-mail invitations.