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At Crisis Center, Across the City, Life Slowly Returns to Normal

May 7, 1995

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A city that will never be the same took small steps Sunday toward life as it was before.

For the first time in 18 days, morning church service was almost back to normal at the First Christian Church, where families of bombing victims had been gathering to wait for news.

The dining room that held the Red Cross-run crisis center was quiet, with no victims’ families around. The 35 phones installed for volunteers to take calls were still.

And the Rev. Don Alexander wanted to talk about the long-postponed golf tournament and women’s fellowship luncheon.

``Nothing will be lost, just a little late,″ Alexander said. ``It will be a fun time, and we need some fun times.″

A few blocks west of the skeleton of the bombed-out federal building, at the city’s Central Fire Station, ``it feels good to get back to normal, into the routine of things,″ Maj. Mark Woodard said.

One of the company’s rigs had been at the bomb site for 14 days. Woodard said firefighters were still being debriefed and counseled but could respond to other calls without problem.

What they had been through, though, had changed them.

``I honestly think it’ll make us better husbands and fathers,″ Woodard said. ``It checks your heart out, makes you have a new respect for life.″

For many, the end of the search for victims Friday was the first step back toward normalcy. The April 19 blast killed 167 people.

Most of the FBI’s evidence collectors returned to their home cities over the weekend, although other investigators were still working out of the command center, FBI spokesman Dan Vogel said.

``We’re still operating here around the clock, but people are getting a chance to take a day off,″ Vogel said. ``We’ve cut back a bit.″

Long lines stretched from the betting windows at the Remington Park horse-racing track despite the rainy weather and sloppy field. Officials estimated a crowd of about 8,000 _ about normal _ after a period when attendance was down.

``Release the tension,″ said Ethel Gibson, who was at the track. ``We can’t change it, so we have to go on from here.″

Fred Bailey said the people he knows are talking less and less about the bombing.

``It’s to a point now where it’s starting to cool down on TV. They’re getting back to the O.J. (Simpson) trial,″ Bailey said.

But life is still not normal for many.

The congregation at First United Methodist Church, just a few blocks from the federal building, worshiped at a nearby Baptist church.

Several of the Methodist church’s windows were blown out in the explosion, and a warning sign was still taped to one set of doors. The church had briefly served as a morgue after the bombing.

People also continued coming downtown Sunday to see for themselves the explosion’s destruction, even though for the first time since April 19, nothing was happening _ no searching, no memorial services, no investigators at the scene.

Some onlookers carried cameras and binoculars as they wandered around the fenced-in perimeter, wearing their Sunday best and towing small children.

Rosalind Jameson, who works a few blocks away, stared up at the church’s broken windows.

``It’s just bizarre,″ said Jameson, who has co-workers who lost grandchildren in the blast. ``So bizarre.″

Back at First Christian Church, the Rev. Alexander held regular Sunday services. From the pulpit, he told the congregation to take a big, collective sigh, and they did, sighing deeply from their seats in the pews.

``Isn’t that good? We need to do a lot of that,″ Alexander said.