Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The week of terror flashbacks

By John D. Sutter, CNN
updated 6:47 AM EDT, Fri April 19, 2013
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
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT