Clint Seidl was 7 when Timothy McVeigh, a disillusioned Army veteran, detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing Seidl’s mother and 167 others.
SHAWNEE, Okla. —
Clint Seidl recalls nearly everything about the Oklahoma City bombing: the lunch lady who told him about the explosion, the three days he waited for his mother to come home, the man who told his family that she never would.
Yet he doesn’t remember his mother.
“I hate saying it,” he says. “I’ve got a few stories in my head, but I just don’t — I hate saying it.”
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Seidl was 7 when Timothy McVeigh, a disillusioned Army veteran, detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Seidl’s mom worked in the building as an investigative assistant for the Secret Service. When the bomb went off at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, Kathy Seidl, 39, fell nine stories to her death.
In all, the explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children, most in the building’s day-care center. It was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil until 9/11.
Kathy’s only child quickly became one of the bombing’s most heartbreaking and memorable victims. Here was this boy, with sleepy eyes and bowl-cut hair the color of hay, who forged ahead without outward reluctance or self-pity after his mother’s death. He prepared testimony for McVeigh’s trial, lobbied Congress for a swifter death penalty, raised money with Miss America and broke ground for a memorial with Vice President Al Gore.
Seidl found ways to cope with hardship: He became the stoic one.
The one who stayed dry-eyed during the McVeigh trial while seasoned journalists wept. The one who grew up to deal with pain by going for a long drive in his truck. The one who learned to suffer alone.
“I’ve always kind of been the ‘it is what it is’ guy,” he says. Now 27, he’s raising a family and has a daughter who is older than he was at the time of the bombing.
He’s not one to commemorate his mother’s death, or make a big fuss each April 19. He’d rather stay busy and try to ignore the date’s significance. “I really don’t want to relive it every year,” he says.
He may have to this year, the 20th since the bombing.
Because for the first time as an adult, Seidl plans to attend Oklahoma City’s annual memorial ceremony Sunday — and face memories he’s long avoided.
Following his father
Seidl didn’t join the Secret Service like his mother. He chose plumbing, like his father.
The two share a business in Shawnee, an Oklahoma City suburb, just down the freeway from Dale, where Seidl lives.
About 10 days a month, he also works a 24-hour shift at the Shawnee Fire Department. He says the job provides a steady income and good health insurance. His father laughs at that explanation and says firefighting fulfills his son’s desire to help others.
“I’m proud of Clint,” his father, Glenn Seidl, says. “He’s a good kid.”
Seidl and his dad became inseparable after Kathy’s death. They took fishing trips, practiced baseball and ate way too many pot-roast dinners, one of the few meals his father could cook. Glenn taught his son how to do plumbing work — and how to tease old Dad about it.
Clint Seidl’s wife, Geordan, says the men needle each other for not pulling their weight on the job. “I’ll call Glenn and ask what’s going on and he’ll say, ‘Well, I gotta do it all.’ Clint says the same thing: ‘Well, Dad don’t do nothin’. I gotta do it all.’ ”
Clint Seidl is 6-foot-2, with broad shoulders; he gets his build and his even-keeled nature from his mom. But the rest, he gets from his dad: his chin-up attitude, a slow-talkin’, vowel-heavy manner of speech, hair that looks unnatural unless confined by a baseball cap.
“Clint is his dad,” Geordan says. “They’re like the same person. … I honestly don’t think one could coexist without the other.”
Father and son also cope in similar ways. Each says the other works to avoid painful memories.
Glenn Seidl has a broken-heart tattoo on his arm. “As a reminder,” he says, “of how life can be taken away so quick.”
He lives alone in a brick house on a hill 20 miles from the nearest grocery store. It’s a man’s home: sparsely decorated, with two sofas, an easy chair and a murmuring TV in the living room. His four dogs — Great Danes Jack and Bella, a mutt named Milo and a rotund, 17-pound dachshund he calls Pork Chop — have the run of the place.
“I’m doin’ all right,” he says. He admits, though, that he never imagined such a solitary life.
“One time Clint said, ‘Dad, it’d be a whole different deal if Mom was still alive, wouldn’t it?’ And I said, ‘Well, sure it would. I probably wouldn’t be living down there where I’m at because your mom would want to be close to the grandkids.’
“So yeah,” Glenn says, “things would be a lot different.”
Fragments of memories
It’s evening. Clint Seidl unwinds in a smoky Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar attached to the local mall. He finished a shift at the fire station that morning and spent the day doing his taxes. It’s the youngest of his three kids’ first birthday.
Over beers, he reflects on his memories before and after the bombing, which are at once vivid and achingly barren.
He recalls only fragments of his mom alive. How she badgered his father for letting him ride on a lawn mower unsupervised. How she sent him cards from work after he got upset about not getting any mail.
The bombing brings some memories into focus. He remembers the Secret Service agents who stayed with his family afterward and let him wear their badges around the house. He remembers seeing his mom’s body at the funeral home and not believing it was her. He doesn’t remember her funeral.
Then again, funerals were all too common during his childhood. Within two years of the bombing, the family lost two of his mother’s three siblings: Aunt Carol to cancer and Uncle Clifford to a car crash. By the time he was 9, Seidl says, he’d stopped sending his suit to the dry cleaner. He just hung it up in anticipation of the next funeral.
“Nothing is guaranteed; that’s for sure,” he says. “Life’s not fair. Very seldom is it going to work out the way you think.”
He says he’s learned how to adapt to whatever life throws at him, just as he had to do during McVeigh’s trial.
Prosecutors had chosen him as their only child witness. He had worked for two years on what he wanted to say. But at the last minute, the judge decided the boy couldn’t testify. It would be inflammatory, he said, too much for jurors who had already listened to days of agonizing, emotional testimony.
Prosecutors scrambled to put his father on the stand as their final witness. He read his son’s testimony, as the boy watched from the spectators’ seats.
The jury found McVeigh guilty of mass murder and conspiracy in the Oklahoma City bombing. He was put to death in 2001.
McVeigh was convicted of conspiring to detonate a truck filled with more than two tons of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil outside the Oklahoma City federal building and of the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement officers. Co-conspirator Terry Nichols was convicted of the same charges and remains in prison, serving 161 consecutive life sentences with no parole.
Michael Fortier, who was convicted of failing to warn authorities about his former Army buddies’ plans for the bombing, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and was released under the Witness Protection Program in January 2006, after serving more than 10 years.
Becoming a dad
The sun has just begun to set over the ballfields. The Oklahoma wind is hard at work, depositing dust in eyes and inducing shivers every few minutes. An aluminum bat makes contact with a lime-green softball: ping!
Seidl stands at third base coaching the Lady Pirates, the 8-and-under softball team of his daughter, Amari.
This is how he shows love: showing up, passing along technique, being there to gently scold Amari when she plops down and rolls around in the infield. “Hey, get out of the dirt, goofball.”
He’s not so good at the hugs and the kisses. After the bombing, Seidl says: “I became pretty insensitive.” Today, he’s not as “nurturing” with his kids as he thinks he should be.
His wife says he is a good dad in other ways to Amari, 8, and sons Lundan, 5, and Zeke, 1. He provides. He recently took the kids on a mushroom hunt. And when Geordan’s sister died unexpectedly a few years back, he was a “rock,” taking care of his wife, the house and the kids.
But parenthood has tested his coping mechanisms. He missed one son’s first steps because he was working. His need to be alone — to take a long drive in his truck or sneak off with a fishing pole and a six-pack — conflicts with his desire for closeness.
Becoming a father has also triggered, and changed, feelings about the bombing. For years, Seidl lamented growing up without a mom. Now, he grieves less for himself and more for her, because she missed out on being a mother and grandmother.
“Man, what a bad deal,” he says. “She would have been like Geordan. She would have been the crazy baseball mom with the foam finger. … She really got cheated — and not just her. There were a lot of other people, too.”
The pain Seidl has bottled up is making its way to the surface this year.
His maternal grandmother wants to go to the memorial Sunday, and since his grandfather died this year, Seidl says he’ll go with her. Glenn Seidl is going, too.
But Clint Seidl’s loved ones are concerned that returning to the place where the Murrah Building stood and hearing his mother’s name called as one of the 168 dead could resurrect some boyhood traumas. And whether he chooses to make peace with them, or stuff them deep inside, could shape who he becomes.
All he has to say is: “It will be a good deal.”