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Her Name Was Cindy Campbell Brown. She Died In 1995. And It’s Time You Knew Her Story.

On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 a.m., Timothy McVeigh set off a truck bomb in front of the building where Cindy worked.

The photo on the website of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, under “Those Who Were Killed”, shows a photo of a fresh-faced young woman in a white lace wedding dress, a gauzy veil resting in her curly hair. She looks directly into the camera, smiling and holding a single red rose in her right hand. 

Her name was Cindy Campbell Brown (’91). Her age was 26. She was a Secret Service agent whose office was on the top floor of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 a.m., Timothy McVeigh, 26, a U.S. Army veteran poisoned with anti-government hate, set off a truck bomb in front of the building where Cindy worked.  McVeigh had designed and built the bomb by hand along with his co-conspirator Terry Nichols. The blast sheared off the front of the 9-story, glass front federal building, reducing it to rubble.  The ensuing devastation killed 168 people, including Cindy. It was the most lethal strike on American soil since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor more than 50 years earlier. The Oklahoma City bombing remains the deadliest single act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. 

Cindy was the only Baylor graduate in the attack.

The photo of Cindy as a bride was the perfect choice to capture her at that moment in her life. Cindy had been married only weeks before to fellow Secret Service agent Ron Brown. They had gotten their wedding pictures back and liked them so much that Cindy called Garner Brothers photographers in Bells, Texas about 15 minutes before the bomb went off. She left a voicemail telling them she wanted to order more prints. It was Cindy’s last known phone call before the explosion that took her life. 

Cindy Campbell Brown’s photo in the Roundup. She was a political science major who graduated in 1991. She is the sole Baylor graduate to perish in the OKC bombing.

Cindy was in the federal building that day because of something she had done all her adult life: public service. She majored in political science at Baylor. One of her professors said Cindy talked about the Gulf War a lot and was concerned about it. Cindy’s brother was serving in Operation Desert Storm—ironically, the same operation a young Army soldier named Timothy McVeigh served in as well.

Her first job after graduating in 1991 was one she was made for, working with kids as a juvenile probation officer for Grayson County, Texas. Bill Bristow, who was director of Grayson County Juvenile Services in 2005 told North Texas e-News then that protecting and serving children was “where her heart was.” Bristow said that a decade after her murder, his department was still getting calls from former juvenile probationers asking to talk with her. 

“They call back because they are doing well and they want to tell her,” Bristow said.

…protecting and serving children was “where her heart was.”

Years after Cindy’s death, one child probationer of hers did just that—told her he was doing well and thanked her. On the website Officer Down Memorial Page, on April 23, 2023, Justin Brown wrote, “One of Her Juvenile probation clients in the early 1990s..She was one of the most caring and still stern people I have met. 32 years later and I have still never forgotten Her. Rest easy, Cindy…Also…I MADE IT”. Another man on the site wrote in tribute to her simply this: “’Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”.”

Cindy was hands-on with the teens she counseled, trying to improve their home life with family interventions and bringing up their schoolwork by going to class with some kids and driving others to school and back. 

“She’d do it,” a former colleague told Oklahoma Today, “If that school official would give them another chance, because she knew if that child dropped out, it was over.”

It was Cindy’s work with federal agents on a case involving one of her juvenile probationers that led the Secret Service to recruit her as an agent herself. Cindy’s probationer had allegedly sent threatening letters to the president. Cindy was unsure about taking the job but was convinced after visiting the Secret Service office in Dallas. Later, she told her father that standing out in front of a hotel all night in the rain protecting the president didn’t sound great, but to her, it was exciting. 

Her first assignment was Oklahoma City, where she worked for 14 months before her murder. She was one of 8 federal agents killed in the Murrah building bombing. 

The man Cindy had married only 40 days before her death, Ron Brown, was a Secret Service agent working in the Phoenix office when he and Cindy met. He retired from that job a few years ago and now works in Portland, Oregon as a private investigator.

Ron remembers getting the horrific news of the attack on the building where his wife worked. He flew to Oklahoma City as soon as he could and immediately headed to the site of the bombed-out building. 

L: The immediate aftermath of the OKC bombing attack. R: Rescue workers search through the wreckage. Cindy Campbell Brown was found in the rubble on April 20, 1995 — the day after the bombing.

Search and rescue operations were ongoing as first responders combed through the debris looking for survivors, and the dead. A photo of a firefighter carrying out the limp, bloodied body of a dead infant, one of 19 children murdered in the explosion, captured the horror of the carnage. There had been a daycare on the Murrah building’s second floor.

Law enforcement had blocked off the streets in a large perimeter around the building to keep unauthorized people away. Ron, undaunted, managed to talk his way past the barricades and onto the huge mountain of debris where the ruins of the federal building stood. He climbed onto the pile and started digging through it, searching for his wife. It was only at the end of a long, fruitless day that the awful truth sunk in: he would not be able to find her. 

Search and rescue teams discovered Cindy’s body in the rubble the next day. 

They notified Ron; he went to view her. There was a small grace in that viewing. Many people killed in the bombing were so damaged that only parts of their bodies were located: a child’s finger, a leg. Cindy’s body was intact, with severe internal injuries. Her funeral took place in the same place where she and Ron had just been married: Grace United Methodist Church in her hometown of Sherman, Texas.

“I have still never forgotten Her. Rest easy, Cindy…Also…I MADE IT!”
reformed child probationer of Cindy Campbell Brown’s in 2023

Cindy Campbell Brown’s beautiful, consequential life and tragic death resonate deeply with me, for two reasons. 

First, I grew up in Oklahoma City. My family–mother, father, two sisters and me–moved there when I was 10 years old. I lived there till I left for college at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.

Outside the Oklahoma City Memorial includes a reflecting pool and a field of empty chairs for each victim. Cindy Campbell Brown’s is near the middle of the back row.

I loved Oklahoma City: its warm-hearted people, its prairie heritage of concern for neighbors, its modesty, its love of God and country. The attack on this place that had embraced me and my family shocked me. The death of so many innocents, including Cindy Campbell Brown, was unfathomable in its callousness and cruelty. Tim McVeigh is said to have called them “collateral damage.” But of course, Cindy and the 167 other souls who died with her were not at all collateral. McVeigh picked the federal building in Oklahoma City rather than Waco, Texas—one of the targets he considered—because it was so much bigger and contained so many more federal employees. 

I think of Cindy Campbell Brown’s last moments and am haunted by this fact: some of the dead from the 9th floor where she worked were found where people from the 1st floor lay in the debris. Witnesses said that when the bomb went off, they saw people on the 9th floor with both arms up in the air, as if they were doing the Wave at a football game. In fact, they were dropping through empty space to the ground far below.

I am haunted, too, by this. Cindy was almost exactly the same age as another young woman who was newly married when she was murdered: my younger sister Nancy Bishop Langert. 

Tim McVeigh is said to have called them ‘collateral damage.’ But of course, Cindy and the 167 other souls who died with her were not at all collateral.

Nancy was the youngest of the three girls in our family. She grew up in Oklahoma City, where we moved when she was five years old. The day we moved into our house there, amid all the chaos of movers bringing in furniture and unpacking boxes, Nancy went missing. She was nowhere to be found in the house, in the yard.  She was just… gone. Desperate to find her,  I searched the neighborhood, knocking on doors to see if anyone had seen this little girl with light brown hair. To my relief, all of them had.

Nancy had been going door to door up the street, ringing doorbells and introducing herself to her new neighbors who answered the bell. “Hi! I’m Nancy Bishop! I just moved here,” the small child would announce to the startled but enchanted folks at the door. I finally found my little sister at a big white house at the end of our street, where she was inside with the kindly elderly couple who lived there, sitting in their big white kitchen eating an apple.

I found Nancy that day; in the end, though, I did lose her.  In 1990, just a year after she and the man she loved, Richard Langert, were married and she was pregnant with what would have been their first child, Nancy and her husband and unborn baby were shot to death in their home. After a six-month investigation into the crime, a young man turned in their killer; it was a teenage boy who lived only a few blocks away. His reason for killing them was as senseless and incomprehensible as Timothy McVeigh’s was for setting off his handmade truck bomb.

Nancy Bishop Langert, the younger sister of the article’s author, and her husband Richard were murdered when Nancy was almost the same age as Cindy Campbell Brown.

When I saw the photo of Cindy Brown on the Memorial Museum site—her wedding dress, her smiling, upturned face, her curly hair—I was speechless. It was as if I was looking into the face of my sister, another young woman in the early bloom of her life as an adult, full of promise and joy. 

I asked Ron Brown about his wife’s murderer, Timothy McVeigh. Brown said his reaction when McVeigh was sentenced to death was, “Let him go.” Let him go, because what Ron Brown and others would do to McVeigh if they got their hands on him would be far worse than his execution by lethal injection in federal custody. 

Brown and other family members of those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing are invited each year on April 19 to attend commemorations of that tragic event. Brown goes, but he does so quietly, unannounced. He brings flowers; he lays them by the chair, sitting among 167 others, that honors his dead wife and bears her name. He neither listens to nor makes any speeches. He just remembers the woman he loved and lost. 

Cindy Campbell Brown is buried in her hometown in Sherman, Texas, but she has not stopped doing good in this world. Each May, the high school she attended, Sherman High School, gives one of its students a scholarship in Brown’s name. Cindy’s father told a reporter that the scholarship “has kept her memory alive by helping someone else, which is the way she would want it to be.”

Cindy Campbell Brown is buried in her hometown in Sherman, Texas, but she has not stopped doing good in this world.

The coach of Cindy’s church softball and volleyball teams, David Matthews, called her “an All-American girl” who was a role model to his two daughters. Cindy’s mother Linda said around the time of the 10th anniversary of Cindy’s death that she “takes every opportunity to tell people who she was…Cindy was such a great girl; she was so happy. She had everything going for her. She was the typical girl next door who blossomed and did well. She was beautiful inside and out. I often wonder how she would be doing now.” 



Jeanne Bishop is a public defender in Cook County. She is also the author of Grace From The Rubble, which tells the story of two fathers in the aftermath of the OKC bombing, and Change of Heart.

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