Black and white photojournalism by award winning photographer David Lee Longstreath
tales from the trail
Home Grown Terrorism
On the morning of April 19, 1995, while ironing a shirt for work, my wife called me.
"David, something bad has happened downtown."
I immediately turned on a portable radio scanner that I regularly carried and heard an uninterrupted stream of police and fire dispatchers calling for help at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
Fire dispatchers were saying there had been an explosion while police were calling for all units to respond to the scene to help the injured and control traffic.
I buried the speed odometer at 90 mph and flew along Interstate 35 towards the scene. As I approached the I-40 junction for east- and westbound traffic, I could see a massive plume of black smoke rising over the area near the Murrah building.
It didn't take long to exit I-35 and find my way to a parking spot behind the old Daily Oklahoman Building, where the former office for the Associated Press had been.
Running across the street towards the Murrah building, I kept seeing bloodied people in every direction. One man who I photographed had numerous chunks of glass still stuck in his face and head.
Chaos can't even begin to describe the scene. It looked like something you might see in Beirut or Baghdad. One-third of the Murrah Building was gone. Wiring and piping of all sorts, office furniture, and mangled desktop computers were everywhere in the rubble. Vast sections of concrete had collapsed into a war-zone sized hole in the front of the building.
I immediately began to shoot. I took one establishing shot that showed the overall scene. Then, I went to work, picking apart the various elements. People all around me were in shock. Parents of the children in the building's first-floor daycare center began arriving. Shrieks of pain and agony were everywhere. A part of me wanted to reach out and help, but another kept whispering, "don't stop, keep shooting, don't stop."
Two months earlier, the AP had given me one of the first-ever digital cameras. It was a clunky looking thing, a Nikon N90 body married to a digital card reader. It was all I had with me at the scene that morning. I later transmitted over 20 digital images from the bombing to newspapers and magazines around the world. I also purchased two film images from a bank clerk that showed the iconic Oklahoma City firefighter cradling infant Baylee Almond.
AP photographers were not equipped with mobile phones in 1995. The pager I wore never stopped buzzing. At one point, I managed to find a working pay phone and called the buro. I was soon on my way to begin sending those first digital images.
Later that morning, while filing photos and answering nonstop calls, Amateur photographer Charles Porter, a mild-mannered young man, came to me wanting to sell photographs of the bombing. My first reaction was to brush him off and continue working, but something he said caused me to pause. "Dan Perry said to bring these photos only to you," he said, looking out over the top of his glasses.
Dan was a friend of mine who taught photojournalism at nearby Central State University. I took the stack of 4 x 6 color prints and began looking quickly at each. At this point, the AP's Oklahoma City bureau chief, Lindel Hutson, came over to help. I was nearing the final shots of the first pack when Hutson drew my attention to two images. One was of a firefighter holding what looked like a dead baby. "We are going to want this," I said to him.
Porter left my office that day with a check for the first time ever. He would later go on to win a Pulitzer Prize for his shot of the firefighter and baby.
In the days ahead, I also photographed a closely guarded Timothy McVeigh being led in handcuffs from the Perry, Okla., jail. I and fellow AP photographer John Gapps III were able to file digital images of McVeigh's "perp walk" hours before any rival news organizations.
Associated Press Photos by David Longstreath
David, my dear friend Jeanine Buck LaBruzzo posted your site this morning. I believe she attended school with you. Your story is both phenomenal and heartwrenching. I remember the horror of that day at my home in Carrolltn, TX. I have never been able to comprehend the complete chaos, horror, fear, and heartbreak of being there that day. Thank you for your skill and dedication as a photojournalist.
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Tales from the Trail
David Lee Longstreath is a retired wire service photographer with more than 40 years experience on assignments around the world. He currently lives in upcountry Thailand.