Message From the Director

Every violent crime has a significant and long-lasting impact on surviving victims and families of victims. Acts of terrorism resulting in mass casualties have a wide and traumatic impact on communities and nations. Indeed, that impact is the primary goal of terrorists. In recent years, it has become clear that United States citizens are not immune from these crimes, either at home or outside the borders of this country.

The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City literally brought home the impact of terrorism for Americans. Individuals and agencies responded in extraordinary ways in the aftermath of the bombing and throughout the criminal trials. No model was in place, however, to guide them in how to respond to and what to expect from victims of terrorism. Their response has since set a standard for others to follow in responding to victims of future terrorist events including the bombing of the military barracks at Khobar Towers in 1996 and the bombings of two United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In addition, the preparations for the Oklahoma City bombing trial phase helped to anticipate the complex issues that developed with the 1999 trial preparations for the two Libyan suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) has marshaled resources and creatively used new technologies to ensure that families of the 270 victims have information and assistance throughout the trial process.

The potential numbers of victims and the consequences of terrorist events present significant challenges and require an extraordinary response from public safety and law enforcement agencies. Experience has taught us that the physical, emotional, and psychological impact on victims and communities persists long after the immediate crisis has been handled. Preparing for acts of mass violence has become an important priority for federal, state, and local officials, and ongoing efforts to develop comprehensive response plans among agencies are occurring at all levels of government. The needs of victims and their families, beginning with the immediate crisis and continuing through the criminal justice process and beyond, must be incorporated into the planning process.

Each act of terrorism presents unique challenges that are specific to the victims, the event itself, and the progress of the criminal investigation and prosecution. Providing services to the victims of each terrorism event teaches additional and important lessons for responding to future events and expands our base of knowledge for serving victims more effectively. Responding to Terrorism Victims: Oklahoma City and Beyond attempts to summarize those lessons and to recommend plans for responding to the needs of terrorism victims. This report focuses primarily on how criminal justice agencies and victim assistance professionals can assist victims of terrorism and on how the roles and responsibilities of these agencies and individuals fit into the overall response to victims.

A number of individuals involved in the provision of services to the Oklahoma City bombing victims contributed their insights and experiences to this report in addition to OVC staff, who have been directly involved in working with victims of other acts of terrorism. Underlying their insights and efforts have been the voices of the surviving victims and families of the victims of Oklahoma City, Khobar Towers, the embassy bombings, and Pan Am Flight 103. These victims have honored us by sharing their experiences of coping with the aftermath of the crimes that devastated their lives. In turn, we can honor them by ensuring that our communities are adequately prepared to respond effectively to terrorism victims in the future.

Kathryn M. Turman

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Responding to Terrorism Victims: Oklahoma City and Beyond October 2000