A Cry in the Darkness
By Dan O'Donnell
April 22, 2021
In tragedy, there is hopelessness, but in America, the land of hope, there is always faith that even on the darkest days there is a glimmer of light. Even when evil seems to win the day, good can rally the soul of a nation through heroism in the face of unimaginable odds.
This is the Forgotten History of A Cry in the Darkness.
It was a sunny Wednesday morning, and Don Hull had a million things to do. A detective sergeant with the Oklahoma City Police Department, the veteran cop mulled over the busy day ahead of him as he drove to work.
He didn’t mind, though, the job was his life and he loved every minute of it. Still, the paperwork he had to do was…
The explosion seemed like it came from right behind him, shattering windows of nearby buildings and rocking Don’s car. Smoke was billowing from the direction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building just a few blocks away, and Hull knew immediately that something had happened there. Without thinking he stepped on the gas, swung his car around, and sped there as fast as he could.
The blast had damaged hundreds of buildings in the area, and as Don navigated through the rubble and burning cars, the horror of what had happened became clear: He saw that the entire front of the Murrah building had been ripped apart and a massive crater lay in front of it.
The smoke was so thick that Don could barely breathe, let alone see, but he blindly ran into the building in his business suit and dress shoes. Rescue gear or not, he was going to save as many people as he could.
Don had worked there at the Drug Enforcement Agency before joining the Oklahoma City Police Department, and he knew that hundreds of people would have been inside. In addition to the DEA, the Murrah Building housed Oklahoma City branches of the ATF, Social Security Administration, Secret Service, Department of Housing and Urban Development, a VA rehab center, and even an in-office day care center.
The day care center! Don thought. The explosion happened right underneath it.
America’s Kids, a center for the children of the Murrah Building’s 550 workers, was on the second floor. As Don climbed through the rubble, he had another chilling thought: There was no more second floor.
The smoke choked him as he climbed, but he couldn’t stop even though he could barely breathe. There were children he needed to save there had to be. He crawled past the twisted debris of what had once been the day care. Shattered toys and bloodied pieces of clothing mixed with shards of glass and chunks of concrete told him that there might not be any hope of finding young survivors, but still he kept crawling and climbing, desperate for any sign of life in the darkness.
Then he saw it: A tiny arm protruding from the rubble. With his bare hands, he tore through the debris that covered the child—nearly a foot of it—and saw a lifeless face. The baby boy had a huge gash on the side of his face, and the arm that Don had seen was so badly broken that it was nearly torn off. He wasn’t moving, and he didn’t seem to be breathing. Heartbroken, Don picked the boy up and tenderly, almost instinctively set his arm back into place.
Suddenly, the boy started to cry, as if the shock of Don readjusting his arm had restarted his heart. He was alive, but barely. Don had to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible.
With the baby in his arms, Don climbed back through the rubble. He didn’t dare take his eyes off the boy, terrified that he could die at any moment. As Don crawled, the boy stopped breathing, and Don stopped to perform CPR. They climbed on. The boy stopped breathing again, and again Don performed CPR.
After what seemed like hours, the two emerged from the rubble with Don screaming “Breathe, baby, breathe!” and looking for the nearest triage doctor with the child in his arms.
“That’s my baby! That’s my baby!” a woman screamed as she and a woman sprinted toward Don. He turned away. He couldn’t let them see him. The boy was too badly hurt; he wasn’t going to make it. This couldn’t be the last time they saw their precious son. Not like this.
Before the parents could reach the baby, emergency personnel grabbed him from Don’s arms and whisked him away to an ambulance.
“Hold his arm tight!” Don screamed. And he ran back into the rubble.
All day, he climbed through the debris to find survivors, but all day the baby’s lifeless face haunted him. If only he had gotten there sooner. If only there was something more he could have done.
Don only quit searching for survivors that night when pure exhaustion forced him home, and he turned on the TV for reports on what was at that point the deadliest terror attack in American history. All told, 168 people had died and nearly 700 others were injured.
Devastatingly, 19 children at the day care center lost their lives. Don couldn’t bear to think about them, especially the little boy he had carried out of the rubble that morning, and he dreaded the interview with a grieving parent that he was about to see on the news.
“Hey, I know that guy!” Don said to his wife as he sat straight up in bed. “He’s the father of the baby I carried!”
Miraculously, the man said, the boy was still alive. He was in grave condition, but doctors thought he just might survive. With tears in his eyes, Don called the hospital. Was it true? Was the boy really alive?
He spoke with the man from the interview, Dan Webber, who said that yes, his 20-month-old son Joseph really is still alive. Don and his wife went to visit the hospital the next morning.
“There’s no way our son would be alive if you hadn’t gotten him out,” Dan told him as the two hugged.
As the days passed, little Joseph made a miraculous recovery. His arm was badly broken, his jaw was wired shut, and he had huge lacerations on his face and body, but he left the hospital just two weeks after the bombing.
The months went on and Joseph continued to recover. Don made frequent visits, and his young daughters played with the little boy he had saved, but eventually the two families lost touch.
Still, Don thought often through the years of what Joseph might be up to; how his life was going.
In 2015, on the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, a local TV news station reunited Don and Joseph for the first time in decades. When Joseph, a 20-year-old college student who now prefers to be called Joe, saw the man who had saved him, the two embraced.
“You were the only good that day,” Don told him.
The next year, Detective Sergeant Don Hull retired from the Oklahoma City Police Department after 35 years of decorated service, which included a Medal of Valor for his heroism on the day of the bombing.
And there celebrating along with Don’s family was Joe Webber, who smiled and applauded the man who had saved his life. But really, Don explained, he owed Joe his gratitude. Joe’s survival as a little baby and the life he had made for himself as a young man both filled Don with pride and gave light to one of the darkest days in American history.
“I refer to Joe as my light in the darkness,” he said.