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April 19, 2014

Bombing museum gets tech boost

OKLAHOMA CITY — A memorial and museum built to remember the worst act of domestic terrorism on American soil is in the midst of a $7 million upgrade so it can better portray how different the world was when Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City federal building 19 years ago today.

Too many patrons, especially younger ones, do not realize that the days of constant cellphone contact and instant news updates are more recent developments, and that the hours and days spent pulling mangled bodies from the crumbled Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building left the victims’ families in agony.

“They ask questions like, ‘Well, why couldn’t you just call their cellphone?’ because they’re so used to that kind of mentality,” said Susan Winchester, the chairwoman of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation, who lost her sister in the blast. “They don’t have any concept of what it was like 19 years ago.”

Where the Murrah building once stood, 168 empty chairs now sit on a slope above a reflecting pool. The static display is noted for its emotional pull, but officials say explaining the context requires more than photos, text and artifacts.

“Our job is to keep the story relevant and alive and to make sure people can connect to the story,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which opened in 2000. “Learning styles have changed since 14 years ago, and how my kids learn is much different than how I was taught.”

Upgrades set for completion by Thanksgiving include interactive displays, a viewing deck and new exhibits on the criminal trials.

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove a truck filled with fertilizer and fuel oil to the front of the Murrah building and detonated the makeshift bomb, killing 168 people, including 19 children. He was executed for the crime, while co-conspirator Terry Nichols is serving life in prison.

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