Reluctant Hero of the Oklahoma City Bombing Commits Suicide
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A reluctant hero of the Oklahoma City bombing who took his own life was wracked with guilt because an injury kept him from rescuing more victims, his closest friend said Friday.
``The federal building claimed 169 lives,″ a tearful Officer Jim Ramsey said. ``It just got another one.″
Sgt. Terrance Yeakey, 30, was found Wednesday in a field near his hometown of El Reno. He had apparently tried to slit his wrists, then shot himself to death, just three days before he was to have received the department’s medal of valor.
Ramsey and Yeakey were among the first Oklahoma City police officers to reach the scene of the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Yeakey rescued at least four people before he fell through two floors of the wrecked building and injured his back.
Yeakey did not leave a suicide note, said Capt. Bill Citty, the department’s spokesman. That left friends and co-workers to speculate that he was driven by guilt over the bombing rescue and his despondence over a troubled family life.
``He had a lot of guilt because he got hurt,″ Ramsey said.
Randall, who is to receive the city’s medal of honor Saturday for the bombing rescue, choked back tears as he clutched a thick pile of letters from children praising Yeakey. Yeakey had taught in the department’s D.A.R.E. program, which tries to keep kids away from drugs, since August.
``I have to bury one of my very dear friends and four hours later I have to accept the highest honor that’s ever been given in the police department,″ said Ramsey, 27. ``I just want him back. I’m going to have to figure out how to function.″
Repeatedly hailed as a hero of the bombing’s immediate aftermath, Yeakey shied away from the attention, said his supervisor, Lt. Joe Ann Randall.
``He didn’t like it. There are some people that like to be heroes and some that don’t,″ she said. ``He was not one that wanted that.″
Many police and rescue workers wear a golden pin in the shape of a ribbon to honor the bombing victims. Yeakey would not wear the pin or return calls from the people he rescued, Randall said.
Interviews with Randall and Yeakey’s fellow officers portray an ambitious man, full of life and dedicated to his work, who covered up his despondence.
Divorced from his wife, Tonya, Yeakey was legally prevented from entering the house the couple had shared with their two daughters, ages 2 and 4, Ramsey said.
``His ex-wife, his love for his two daughters that he could not see,″ Ramsey said when asked for reasons that might have driven Yeakey to suicide.
The ex-wife’s phone number is unlisted, and attempts to locate her Friday were unsuccessful.
Citty said police were investigating a report that an order barring Yeakey from going near his ex-wife had been violated. Yeakey also had a similar order against her, Citty said.
Yeakey was attending night classes and working as a security guard in his off hours to pay child support, Ramsey said. Randall recalled an optimistic discussion of Yeakey’s future in the department just two days before his death.
``He was inspiring,″ she said. ``He thrived on the kids in the D.A.R.E. program. He brought joy into the unit.″
Co-workers described Yeakey as a larger-than-life figure among the students he taught in the D.A.R.E. program. He used humor along with his booming voice, imposing height and muscular physique to capture the children’s attention and deliver the often dry anti-drug messages, Ramsey said.
Many students in his classes broke down in tears Thursday, said Sgt. Mozella Hurte, who had to tell the children of his death.
``Our D.A.R.E. officer is very funny. He makes boring things a lot of fun,″ one student wrote in a letter Ramsey showed to a reporter.
``He knows that he was loved here,″ Ramsey said. ``He knew that I loved him. He knew that he could come to me. He didn’t want to bother me.″