Mini memorials for those killed and injured appear within hours after of the bombing surround the perimeter of the Murrah site. Banners thanking the rescue workers are attached to the fence protecting the site.

Only hours after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, people begin to create their own personal memorials. Spontaneous mini memorials are placed for those killed or injured and items thanking the efforts of the first responders surround the border of the crime scene. The site was dressed with hundreds of notes, banners, beautiful flowers and a menagerie of stuffed animals. Individuals from all over the country begin to respond by sending thousands of unsolicited memorial ideas to Governor Frank Keating and Mayor Ronald Norick. As the months pass, it is obvious that people want and need to remember.

Task Force

Oklahoma City Mayor Norick organizes a 350-member Task Force in the summer of 1995, to look for ways to appropriately commemorate that day. On January 16, 1996, the Memorial Task Force adopts a resolution that requires the Survivor Tree be included in the final design of the Oklahoma City Memorial.

By March 26, 1996, the Task Force completes a Mission Statement, with the declaration to create a memorial “… to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever.”

Mission Statement

Following the guidelines set forth in the Mission Statement, Memorial organizers plan and conduct an international design competition. Along the way, they convince the Oklahoma City city council to permanently close Fifth Street between Robinson and Harvey and to make it a part of the Memorial grounds. The city also agrees to purchase and donate several parcels of land for the Memorial. In addition, the city, county, state and national leaders gather at the Murrah site to sign an unprecedented cooperative agreement called the Intergovernmental Letter of Understanding.

Design Competition

The competition becomes the largest design competition ever held at that time – 624 designs from 23 countries and all 50 states are delivered to Oklahoma City. The design boards are put on display—and after a private viewing by families, survivors and rescue workers—the public is able to see and comment on each design. Tens of thousands of people view the designs and complete comment cards in just three days.


A review committee of architects and design professionals from around the country – and a committee of family members, survivors and rescue workers—review the designs and comment cards. Five finalists are selected and announced as part of the second anniversary, April 19, 1997. This selection is the beginning of Stage II of the competition. Each of the five teams are required to create three additional informational boards and a three-dimensional model. Two months later, there is a private viewing of the additional boards and models for families and survivors at Leadership Square on June 20th and 21st.

City, State, Memorial leadership and Memorial designers travel to the White House on August 13, 1997, to introduce the design to President Bill Clinton. On October 9th, President William J. Clinton signs Public Law 105-58, creating the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The law provides that the Oklahoma City National Memorial would be owned and operated by the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial will be built at a cost of $9.3 million.

The Winning Design

The winning design is announced on July 1, 1997, under the Survivor Tree. Designers Hans and Torrey Butzer, with Sven Berg, were living in Germany when they submitted the winning entry. The Butzers decide to make Oklahoma their permanent home while they work on the Memorial project.

President Clinton commented on the winning design, “The design is elegant, it is symbolic. A memorial of true power and amazing grace.”

The competition provided an equal playing field for all participants and showcased all 624 design boards anonymously so that the best and most appropriate Memorial could be chosen. The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial is a place of comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity where all people can reflect on the love and kindness poured out for a hurting community. It is a testament of remembrance, resilience and unity in the face of evil.

An Inclusive Process

From the very beginning of the memorialization process, committees were drawn from the families who lost loved ones in the bombing, survivors, rescue workers and volunteers who participated in the rescue and recovery efforts and community volunteers. The inclusive, and participatory process was essential to building this sacred place.

This online exhibit is made possible by funds from 2017 Improving Access to Collections grant.