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December 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


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 each moment.”

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.

“The 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.

When he 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.

“Someone 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 ash.”

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 was.”