Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The week of terror flashbacks

By John D. Sutter, CNN
April 19, 2013 -- Updated 1047 GMT (1847 HKT)
Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people. Forensic mappers work the crater at the site of a fire and explosion in West, Texas, on April 24, 2013. The West Fertilizer Co. plant in the small Texas town exploded days earlier on April 17, killing 15 people.
HIDE CAPTION
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
Texas fertilizer plant explodes
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A fertilizer plant exploded in Texas on Wednesday, killing at least five people
  • The cause of the explosion is unknown, according to reports
  • The Boston bombing, Texas explosion and ricin letters have not been linked
  • John Sutter: Still, the events take a collective toll; and they bring past tragedy back to life

Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist at CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.

(CNN) -- It's a surreal and horrifying scene. Father and daughter are in a truck that's parked in a relatively distant field, behind a fence. They're watching a building burn.

"It should collapse," the dad says.

Then, suddenly: A deafening explosion. Vehicle shakes. Microphone hisses. The recording is fuzzy.

Then you hear screams. This YouTube clip has been passed all over the Internet, including on news sites, since a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, on Wednesday.

"Are you OK!?"

"Dad! Dad! I can't hear! Get outta here! Please get outta here! ..."

John D. Sutter
John D. Sutter
Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



"Oh my God."

The video goes black.

"I'm pretty sure it lifted the truck off the ground," Derrick Hurtt, who recorded the video, said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show. "It just blew me over on top of her. It all happened so quick that things kind of went black for a moment."

Hurtt told the show his 12-year-old daughter's hearing had returned.

Authorities haven't determined the cause of that explosion, which is thought to have killed at least five people and injured scores more, according to news reports. It may well have been an accident, and I am in no ways insinuating it was linked to terror. But already people on the ground and in the media are comparing this tragedy -- along with the Boston Marathon bombing, which may seem like an eternity ago, but happened Monday; and the letters that are thought to contain ricin and were intended for the president and a senator -- to others that linger in America's memory.

It seems to be the week of terror flashbacks.

Obama in Boston: We'll 'grow stronger'
EMS director: We cry together
CNN Explains: Ricin

That YouTube clip -- it's hard to watch and I can't decide if I should encourage you to do so or warn against it -- gives a small sense of what it must be like to live through any explosion, disaster or terrorist attack, regardless of its cause. Even for those who haven't, many people in the United States are being haunted this week by attacks and disasters of the past. And it's tempting to feel like we've been cursed to relive these nightmares over and over again.

The parallels are eerie. Oklahoma City. The Waco fire. Both of those anniversaries (if we can call them that) are this week, as Amy Davidson pointed out in a smart piece for The New Yorker. The fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, which is only 20 miles or so from Waco, the site of the David Koresh compound fire.

"Massive -- just like Iraq. Just like the Murrah (Federal) Building in Oklahoma City," D.L. Wilson, from the Texas public safety department, said at a news conference.

The letters that possibly contained ricin have thrown people back to the moment after the September 11 attacks when there was an anthrax scare on Capitol Hill.

The Boston bombings, cause unknown, drew comparisons to 9/11, the Atlanta Olympics bombing -- and Oklahoma City.

A former co-worker of mine, Bob Doucette, wrote "An open letter from Oklahoma regarding the Boston Marathon" on his blog. He highlighted the emotional parallels.

"It's hard to find the right words. But we feel your pain, shock and sadness. Deep within us," he wrote. "Back in 1995, while working for a little suburban newspaper in Oklahoma City, I went to the Murrah Building site soon after the attack. What I saw reminded me of past bombings, overseas, in havens of war like Beirut. Friends and co-workers are still haunted by what they saw there. Oklahoma City rebuilt, but did not forget."

The past comes back to life -- no matter the cause. And April is a particularly awful month for it. The assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (April 4, 1968); the death of Abraham Lincoln (April 15, 1865); the shootings at Columbine High School (April 20, 1999); and those at Virginia Tech (April 16, 2007) all happened this month in history.

At the time of writing, no evidence links this week's frightening events -- the bombing, the letter, the explosion. Nor is there evidence to tie them to terror events of the past. I'm not interested in teasing out the potential motives or causes behind these disasters. In the case of the Texas explosion, it's possible that it was simply a horrific accident, although authorities say they are treating the area as a crime scene until they have firm evidence to the contrary.

What is more interesting to me right now is the psychological toll this takes on us. This has been a traumatic week in every since of the word. Lives lost in Boston and West, Texas. Fear in Washington. As we pray for the victims and their families ... and sing the national anthem in unison at hockey games ... and run in tribute to those who were hit by a bomb at a marathon finish line ... and lend our support to people in Texas ... we're left wondering what this all means and if we'll be able to stitch up the wounds and move on.

CNN iReport: Run for Boston 2014

Those directly hurt or whose loved ones were killed in these events may never be the same. But where does this leave the county as a whole? It's hard to say for now.

Perhaps, as many people have pointed out, we can take comfort in knowing there are "helpers" and heroes in each of these tragedies -- people run toward the sound of the blast or toward the flames. And in the fact that, as Peter Bergen wrote earlier this week, terrorist bombings in the U.S. have been "exceedingly rare" since 9/11.

We'll have to wait for clues to emerge about what or who caused all of this week's events to really know how to process them. There will always be flashbacks of terror and disaster and tragedy. Maybe that's the world we live in. But that doesn't mean we can't push back.

That's why I'll be watching from afar as people convene on April 28 for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. As Doucette, my former colleague, writes, "We'll be running for the 168 of our own who died and the many more who were spared but inexorably scarred. But we're running for your guys, too. Because we know."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of John D. Sutter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT