Kathy Sanders: Where is Colton and Chase Smith’s Grandmother Now?

With HBO’s ‘An American Bombing: The Road to April 19th’ delving deep into the 1995 Oklahoma City incident that claimed 168 innocent lives, we get a gripping documentary unlike any other. After all, it gives us a true insight into the way anti-government sentiments and homegrown terrorism have affected our society over the years, especially in terms of violent hate speech. Though the other side of this is also portrayed by the presence of individuals like Kathy Sanders, whose experience of losing her two grandsons in this attack led her down a complex path.

Who is Kathy Sanders?

Although life is never perfect, Kathy was honestly content in the early 1990s considering she was always surrounded by not only a loving husband but also their children and grandchildren. Her daughter Edye Smith actually even lived with her alongside two toddler sons, Colton Wade Smith plus Chase Dalton Smith, so they all shared an added affectionate bond of their own too. But alas, everything turned around on the morning of April 19, 1995; minutes after this mother-daughter duo had dropped the kids at the daycare center in the Alfred Murrah Federal Building.

“I remember exactly what I was doing that morning,” Kathy candidly said in the aforementioned film. “My grandchildren Chase and Colton; I went in and flipped the light on in their bedroom. I sang, ‘Good morning to you, good morning to you. We’re all in our places with sunshiny faces.’ What a nice way to start a new Wednesday, and Chase begins to giggle… I remember when I left them at the daycare; they’re in the federal building with little donut crumbs on their faces.” Then came 9:02 am, which is precisely when a truck bomb went off on the north side of this facility, right under the daycare center, while she and Edye were mere blocks away.

“We take off running…, and the building is gone.” Kathy somberly added — she knew then her grandchildren had passed, making her wonder if the God she’d worshipped all her life even existed. Hence came months of internal struggles, feelings of resentment and bitterness, as well as contemplation of suicide, that is, until she found faith again upon realizing she had a different calling. The truth is her then-husband Glenn Wilburn had noticed a few discrepancies in the authorities’ accounts of what’d transpired — despite the arrest of Timothy McVeigh — driving her to self-investigate so as to ensure all those involved would face unbiased justice.

It turns out there were eyewitness claims that Timothy wasn’t alone on the fateful morning, plus the government was already on high alert owing to the siege at Waco exactly two years prior. However, the former apparently wasn’t followed up upon and the latter wasn’t made publicly known, spiking several suspicions — yet, officials have always maintained they got all the right men convicted: Timothy McVeigh as well as Terry Nichols. “I did get a lot of flack from the families and the survivors when I wanted to find out about the others involved,” she said, only for it to somehow lead to true forgiveness plus a friendship with none other than Terry.

Kathy actually put herself in the shoes of the suspects’ family members, and the added devastation of it led her to genially and gracefully approach Terry’s mother Joyce at his trial. This simple act resulted in him writing her a letter from prison following his conviction as well as sentencing on conspiracy charges, sparking a sincere conversation between them. It thus comes as no surprise Terry soon penned he’d tell her the whole truth once there’s not any threat of him receiving the death penalty, especially as she continued demonstrating genuine warmth to his and Timothy’s respective immediate families.

According to Kathy’s own statements, “I have forgiven, yes. Do I think people should be punished, yes. Forgiveness and punishment are two different things… Forgiveness is a choice you make; you can forgive, or you can stay bitter. Forgiving Terry Nichols was the best choice I ever made; it changed my life. He was remorseful, unlike McVeigh.” And he did ultimately tell her that Timothy was just a “manipulated foot soldier… the top dog, the director who orchestrated [the attack] was a rouge FBI agent with the help of others” he could not name at the time. Little did either of them know that officials would then almost immediately halt all contact between them, per the documentary.

Kathy Sanders is an Author, Activist, and Speaker

From what we can tell, despite the many obstacles to have come her way, Kathy (then Kathy Wilburn) is still exploring the 1995 bombing to ensure no loss here will ever be in vain. “My husband was dying during McVeigh’s trial,” she expressed in the film. “The babies are dead and then Glenn died. The trials came and went. There’s a lot of unanswered questions. I believe I owe it to them to continue that journey to try to get answers to these questions. Over the years, it’s been a balancing act, almost like a tightrope act for me to not get lumped in with the crazies. I needed to just find my truth, not invent it.”

Coming to Kathy’s personal standing, it appears as if she has since tied the knot with a financial planner from Little Rock, Arkansas, by the name of Tom Sanders and has even relocated to be with him. Though every year, on April 19th, this Hot Springs Village resident returns to her hometown of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to meet her grandsons as well as share their story to keep their legacy alive. In fact, the author of ‘After Oklahoma City’ (2004) plus ‘Now You See Me: How I Forgave the Unforgivable’ (2014) is a public speaker too — she travels the nation to give presentations on the bombing and the effects of homegrown terrorism.

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