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 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT