TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD DAINA Bradley sits hunched on the floor of her Oklahoma City apartment, distractedly playing Nintendo with her husband, Gabriel Bruce. Weary and eight months pregnant, she wears a blanket over her shoulders and pink patterned shorts, and her right leg ends above the knee. Awkwardly rising, Bradley hops to the bedroom, where Bruce, 20, has assembled a white crib decked with Winnie-the-Pooh bedding and a menagerie of stuffed animals—all awaiting the arrival of their baby boy, to be named Alizé. By eerie coincidence, the child is due April 20, a year and a day after Bradley lost her mother and two children—and half her leg—when a terrorist bomb devastated the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
"I have really mixed feelings," says Bradley of the baby, in a flat, tired voice. "I feel I don't want anybody to hold it. I just don't feel safe. I know I'll be real overprotective of this baby."
While some of the blast survivors seem miraculously unscathed, Bradley is a reminder that for others in Oklahoma City, the struggle to recover is ongoing—and far from over. Her physical and psychological wounds are painfully obvious. At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, she was filling out a form at the Social Security office, on the first floor of the federal building, accompanied by her mother, Cheryl Hammons, 44, her sister Falesha, now 25, her daughter, Peachlyn, 3, and Gabreon, her 3-month-old son with Bruce. "I saw a flash of light," Bradley recalls of the explosion. Then the floor caved in and she fell through to the basement, her right ankle pinned by a collapsed concrete pillar. "I heard my mom and kids crying and screaming," Bradley says. "And then I heard the ceiling fall in on them. Everything went quiet."
For hours Bradley lay trapped, calling out for help, her ribs broken, lungs partially collapsed. At last, J. Andy Sullivan, chief of orthopedic surgery at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, arrived at the scene, after firefighters had cleared the way. Kneeling in a pool of bloody water, he was aware that at any moment the building might crash down on him. "It was like Vietnam or Beirut," Sullivan, 52, recalls. "I thought, 'I have to be crazy: I don't usually operate in a rubble bin without sterile instruments where my life is in danger.' " With Bradley's consent, Sullivan freed her the only way he could: He amputated her leg, first using scalpels and then, when they grew dull, his pocket knife.
Falesha, meanwhile, has her own harrowing survivor's tale. Blown clear into the parking garage beneath the building, she lay unconscious for days in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital with her right arm shattered, her right side charred (her right ear was burned off entirely), and brain damage. Still suffering short-term memory loss and impaired hearing, she has limited use of her arm and has undergone reconstructive surgery on her ear—with much more to come. "I had a boyfriend before the bombing," she says. "But he couldn't stand to see me going through all this." They were separated for a time, but she and Darron Joyner, a cook, have since reunited, and plan to marry—on April 19, 1997. "It's the day," says Falesha, "that we get to start our life over."
Daina married Bruce, a restaurant worker, last December. Now fitted with a prosthesis, she still experiences discomfort. "Sometimes I can't sleep at night," she says. "Your leg cramps like a charley horse." Worse are her memories of all she has lost. "Some days I want to die," she says, removing the false limb and falling back on the sofa. "I just want it to be all over with."
For Daina and her sister, both of whom hope to become nurses, the psychic pain is easing slowly. "We're talking a night-and-day difference between now and a couple of months ago," says their social worker, Karie Bailey. Daina, she points out, remains moody and sensitive to slights: "She has a lot of guilt in that head of hers." But even for Falesha, who is generally cheerful, bitterness sometimes bubbles to the surface. "When I went in that building, I had my hearing, and I didn't have burns," she says. "I didn't ask to be blown up."
Perhaps it was that unsparing brutality, the way the bombing shattered all illusions of security and the sanctity of innocence, that left the deepest scars of all. "It taught me a lesson," Falesha says. "That anything can happen. Any time. Anywhere."
MICHAEL HAEDERLE in Oklahoma City
On Newsstands Now
- The Little Couple: A New Mom's Fight to Live
- Remembering Nelson Mandela
- Princess Kate's Style Secret!
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine