Interview with OKC Survivor Ruth Schwab

June 17, 2008

Amidst all the dirty details of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, one can get lost. Recently I set out to uncover aspects of this story which have not been publicized or accounted for. The story of the cover-up can not be separated from the effects which the bombing caused, the very real trauma of the survivors, to the families and to the country.

Like so many others, Ruth Schwab was not only a victim but an eye witness. She was gracious enough to talk with me recently. Her story, like so many others that day, is not detached from the maze of other details.

(Murrah Building before bombing)

About a week before the bombing, Ruth was pulling up to work at the Murrah building. As she was going into the garage she saw three men standing around talking. The men were dressed in work clothes, but she did not recognize any of them. Ruth knew many of the people that worked there. The men were holding what seemed to be a large sheet of paper. At the time, Ruth thought that they were holding floor plans.

“You just don’t assume that these men are there because they are planning to bomb your building,” she said “but later, when I saw the news I remembered that morning…I can still see them standing there”

The Murrah building had always been on a list of targets. They had several bomb threats in the past. Usually, Ruth remembers, they didn’t hear about them until much later, on the evening news. She remembers she had said to someone once, that if there was ever a real threat, they wouldn’t know about it until much later.

A week later, on April 19, 1995 Ruth was heading to work again. This time her boss was out of town and had offered her parking spot to Ruth. The spot was on the middle floor of the parking garage. Although Ruth was pulling up as several Ryder trucks were seen outside the Murrah that morning, she did not notice any. She parked her car and went in the building.

The first person Ruth saw that day was V.Z Lawton. Lawton, another survivor, is one of the leading figures among the survivors who have worked tirelessly, despite threats and harassment, to try and find out what happened to themselves and their loved ones that day.

Ruth turned on her computer and waited for it to boot up. Just as she did, she heard a horrible noise and then haze. “I felt like I was in a science fiction movie…I was falling down a hole, just falling and falling.” Looking back, she says, the doctors think that she lost consciousness. As Ruth told me, the body protects itself. She does not remember pain, only the noise and the falling sensation.

(Murrah after the blast)

(spot where Lawton and Ruth were)

The next thing she knew, she was conscious but she could not see anything. It was then that she realized that a bomb must have gone off. Immediately she thought “I have to get out of here. I don’t know where I am or what’s going on but I have to get out.” She tried to sit up. She began yelling out, inquiring if anyone was there.

And that is when her guardian angel. V. Z. Lawton yelled out in response “Ruthy, don’t move. I am here. Don’t move.” She told him not to worry. Ruth was not moving anywhere. She couldn’t.

Later, she would remember the sounds of moaning and groaning around her, sounds which she could not do anything about. The futility of not being able to help those around her haunted Ruth for years to come.

V. Z came over to her and handed her a handkerchief. Ruth says that Lawton was a perfect gentleman. The handkerchief she says was like “trying to put a Band-Aid on a bullet hole,” the damage to her face was that severe. She began to wipe her face. She felt no pain, but Ruth could not see anything. There was only darkness where her vision used to be.

V.Z told her that he was going to try to find a way out. He moved enough of the debris around her, and with the help of another man, Ken, began to guide her out. Ruth remembers that she was on foot until she got half way down the stairs. It was at that point that someone carried her out. Ruth, incidentally, was able to meet the man who carried her out that day. Years later, at the OKC Memorial, he would be working as a guard and remember her.

Ruth was taken outside and laid down. A co worker approached her, and in shock herself, gasped, and said to Ruth, “don’t worry. They can do a lot with plastic surgery these days.” This was not very comforting to Ruth. She did, though, make her co worker promise not to let them cut her clothes off in front of everyone. Her co worker covered her up with a blanket while Ruth waited for the ambulance drivers to put her on a gurney.

Ruth was able to give enough information to rescue workers for them to contact her family.

She was rushed to the hospital. They took her into surgery, and after they had done some superficial stitching to her face, they moved her into another surgery, this time to try and save her eye. This was all done within an hour and a half after the blast, which had occurred at 9:02 AM. When Ruth came to again, the doctors were trying to save her eye. This was around 4 in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Ruth’s children, all five of them, were removed from their classes and told what had happened. Better this, than finding out through the grapevine, Ruth thinks now. Her father and step mother had heard on the news.

At some point, while Ruth was in the hospital that day, a photographer came in and wanted to take a picture of her. Ruth’s sister fixed her hair the best she could and placed a recent picture of Ruth next to her head. “She wanted everyone to know what I had looked like before,” Ruth says.

For years, the bloody shirt from that day and a piece of Plexiglas from the building sat in a bag in Ruth’s garage. Later, she would bring it out for reporters.

Ruth said good things have come out of the bombing, that God had a reason for her to stay on earth. Among these things is her ability to watch her five children grow up. A couple of her children were able to receive scholarship money set aside for victims and family members. One of her daughters was able to earn a law degree from these scholarships. As a mother of five, Ruth would not have been able to send her children to undergraduate college, much less graduate or law school. “So this,” she says “is a blessing in some way.

And her co worker was right; plastic surgeons can do miracles now. To look at Ruth, you would never guess that she has a fake eye or reconstructive surgery. Both Ruth and V.Z were pulling glass out of themselves for years. Two years after the bombing, glass made its way through Ruth’s eye. It had to be removed. Another time, in the shower, glass pushed its way out of her body. “The body just pushed it out,” she says “it hurts right before it comes out…I will always feel the effects…they will not go away.” Ruth will have to have eye surgeries for the rest of her life.

Ruth says the bombing defines who she is. It also defines who her children are. It defines the people in Oklahoma City and it defines, whether they know it or not, the American people. It defines the country itself and beyond. It is central.

For years Ruth and her family would stay inside on the 19th of April. No travel. No leaving the house.

This year she did not attend the anniversary, but her family threw her a party on April 19th only days away from her birthday. “The 19th is my birthday, it’s my day of life. I received 13 more years of life on this earth.” Ruth, like other survivors I have spoken to, does not take life for granted.

(bombing memorial)

Ruth has a tree in her yard. The tree was grown from a seedling taken from the Survivor Tree which stands at the OKC memorial. She also has a piece of the building displayed in her garden.

(baby survivor tree)

Ruth speaks at churches and schools, “I speak as much as ai can. I don’t want it to go away. I want people to know the effects it has had.” She shares this sentiment with V.Z and others. “ We want the truth out. I want my grandkids to know and pass it on. My children will not let anyone forget.

I asked Ruth how the bombing and the cover-up had affected her views of the country, the government and politics. Ruth says for years she tried to ignore it. While she wasn’t a super patriot, Ruth loved her country and could not understand how her own government could be complicit in covering up the atrocity that happened to her and her friends that day. She focused much of her attention into raising her family, but eventually the information became too much to ignore. “The fact is that they knew there was going to be a bomb, EVERYONE KNEW…that blows me away. The daycare!! They could have done something…anything…they could have sounded a fire alarm, a fake one, they could have at least get the babies out…that was a heartbreaker.

She remembers how on the way to work that morning the radio was talking about the anniversary of Waco. She knows how every eye witness saw others besides McVeigh. She remembers how fast the FBI and Justice Department dropped those leads. She also remembers how fast the trials for Nichols and McVeigh were.

Ruth says she tries hard not be bitter, but she’s not blind. Her and her families do not have blinders on anymore. They do not take everything they hear on the news or read in the paper at face value. How can they, when it is known now that not only was there prior warning of the bombing, but that officials knew down to the date that this would happen. April 19th 1995 was the date that a man named Richard Wayne Snell would be executed. Snell himself had previously tried to blow up the Murrah in the 1980’s. Officials were also aware of the danger posed by the anniversary of Waco, and of another federal raid, which had angered so many people. The ATF, in fact, had been warned to avoid work that day. And they did. Of all the causalities to all of the federal agencies that morning, the ATF had NONE.

Ruth says she hates the fact that her children now have to suffer with the pain of knowing this could have been prevented.

She says she feels for people like Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two baby grandsons, Aaron and Elijah that morning. Coverdale had just dropped her loved ones off at the Murrah daycare center, on her way to work. She would only see them again in her troubled dreams.

On parting, Ruth, in her friendly and motherly manner, wished me good luck, telling me I had my work cut out for me. She told me to keep going in pursuit of this. I told her I was just stubborn enough to take her advice.

(Ruth Schwab)

Thank you, Wendy Bird

Thank you Wendy Bird for this well-written, informative and moving piece. Please continue your effort to expose the complete truth about the Oklahoma City Bombing and its perpetrators.

Thanks! ...Holland Van den Nieuwenhof's blog got me hooked.

Thanks for this story. So much about OKC is not well known. Hoppy on video is really neat to listen to. I have served on a grand jury before as Deputy Foreman. (ha!...I pushed to 'no-bill' the IRS cases.) I know what Hoppy is talking about.

Holland Van den Nieuwenhof's blog was one of the best renditions & tie-ins to 9/11 TRUTH that I have ever read. "Key to Truth in Oklahoma"

If one does not thoroughly LOOK, the TRUTH is not visible.