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Judge Was Eyewitness to Two Worst Terrorist Attacks in U.S.
Like everyone who was in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge
Richard Bohanon remembers exactly where he was when a domestic terrorist’s bomb
destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. He was at work in the nearby
courthouse, showered by shattered glass and ceiling tiles.
And like many
Americans, Bohanon remembers exactly where he was on September 11, 2001, when
the first of two airliners hijacked by foreign terrorists crashed into the World
Trade Center. He watched a billowing plume of smoke while walking to work
several blocks away.
The soft-spoken judge was an eyewitness to history’s
two deadliest terrorist attacks in the United States.
“I’d have to say
I’ve led a pretty ordinary life, except for those two extraordinary
experiences,” he said in a recent interview. “It has affected my outlook on
life, made me realize all the more that life is fleeting and that we must enjoy
As he tells it, Bohanon lives a quiet, enjoyable life in
Oklahoma City, not far from where he was born 71 years ago. Before that first
fateful day in ‘95, he says, he had never been in harm’s way “except when I was
out on the highway.”
Moments before the bomb exploded, Bohanon, a bankruptcy
judge since 1982, had been standing at his ninth-floor office window, looking
out at the Murrah Building. He returned to his desk to call a friend, and
credits his high-back chair with helping him escape serious injury.
window blew out. Ceiling tiles fell. All I could see when I looked out the
window was black smoke. I couldn’t tell the source,” he said.
reached the street, assuming that a gas explosion had occurred, the judge walked
toward the Murrah Building. “A police officer stopped me and sent me back. He
said, ‘We found another bomb.’ I don’t think I ever feared for my life, but
there is an apprehension that comes from not knowing all that is happening.”
(What was thought to be a second bomb turned out to be a mock up used for
training by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which had an office in
the destroyed building.)
Six years and five months later, Bohanon was
helping the busy Southern District of New York’s bankruptcy court, then plagued
by several vacancies. As he emerged from a subway station in lower Manhattan the
morning of September 11, people on the street were looking up.
said a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. I and others
nearby assumed it had been a small plane that had been off course. I went into
the courthouse. After the second plane hit, I was able to call my wife (back at
their hotel about 5 miles north) and one of my sons to let them know I was okay,
in a safe place,” he said.
Held at the courthouse for about four hours,
Bohanon emerged to find himself walking in ankle-deep ash. “We made our way to
the East River and then headed north. We had to walk awhile before we escaped
the bad air. By the time I arrived at the hotel, I was completely white with
He and his wife, Annie, flew back to Oklahoma City a week later,
and life resumed. “These experiences were no secret. I told friends, but the
story wasn’t made public until a reporter from the local newspaper called me
earlier this year,” Bohanon said.
“I was hesitant at first to talk about
it,” he added, “but then I thought it’s something that should be recorded, that
someone just happened to be at both locations. I haven’t met anyone else who