Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Local vigil recalls Oklahoma morning

By Richelle Thompson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Before sunlight hit the windows, before brushing her teeth and taking a shower, Sue Prieshoff prayed.

        She lay next to her husband at 6 a.m. in their Cheviot home and asked God to bring peace into the lives of Timothy McVeigh and the families of his 168 victims.

        She pulled on a white sweatshirt, with “Don't Kill For Me” in block letters, and pinned a yellow button to her chest that asked: “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”

        At 7 a.m., Mrs. Prieshoff slid into the last pew of St. Francis Seraph Church in Over-the-Rhine, awaiting a prayer vigil sponsored by the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center.

        At 7:10 a.m., Paul Ortiz left his Clifton home. He kept the windows rolled up and the radio off. He wanted to spend the short commute to the church in reflection and meditation.

        Mr. Ortiz was caught between his opposition to the death penalty and understanding why the families of many victims longed for Mr. McVeigh's death.

        In Oklahoma City, 232 survivors and victims' relatives gathered to watch a closed-circuit TV broadcast of the execution. Outside the Terre Haute, Ind., federal prison, death penalty supporters and opponents rallied. Inside, more than 25 people prepared to witness the execution.

        At 7:30 a.m., the sun cast red and purple shadows from the stained glass windows onto the pews of St. Francis Seraph, and longtime Cincinnati activist Sister Alice Gerdeman began the vigil. Several of the 50 people who attended read reflections from different faiths. At 7:50 a.m., two nuns recited from two single-spaced, typed pages the names of those who lost their lives when Mr. McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

        Some in the audience bowed their heads. Others stared at the cross hanging in the front of the church, at Jesus after his execution. A woman pulled a tissue out of her purse, took off her glasses and wiped her eyes.

        At 8 a.m., a faint baritone of chanting friars echoed in the sanctuary. Cars honked during their morning commute. Bus brakes wheezed. And the church bells chimed.

        “The toll of the bell reminds us that death is in our midst,” said Sister Gerdeman.

        The group recited Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord, Lord, hear my voice!”

        In Terre Haute, the first drug was administered into the right leg of Timothy McVeigh at 8:10 a.m.

        Slowly, people left the pews of St. Francis Seraph for work and errands. Outside the church, a woman pushed a stroller down Liberty Street. Another leaned against a fence on Vine and waited for the bus.

        Six years and 53 days after a Ryder truck bomb ate the side of a federal building and killed 168 men, women and children, Mr. McVeigh was pronounced dead.


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