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Early Edition

16th Street Baptist Church Bombing Witnesses: Forgiveness Still Most Important Part of Dealing with 36-Year-Old Crime

Aired May 18, 2000 - 8:38 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: The pastor of the church that fateful September day is with us this morning. So is his daughter, she was also there and she knew the girls who died in the blast.

The Reverend John Cross and his daughter Barbara, they live in Atlanta now, actually Decatur, just outside of downtown Atlanta. They join us now here in our studio.

We thank you both for coming in this morning and sharing with us your thoughts on what's happened now in this case.

Reverend, does this give you any sense of closure now or what?

REV. JOHN CROSS, FORMER PASTOR, 16TH ST. BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, I'm afraid to say.

HARRIS: Why?

J. CROSS: At least it shows some movement in that direction. But only time will tell what the final decision is.

HARRIS: What do you think that about the fact that these men surrendered?

J. CROSS: That makes me more skeptical. They -- all these years and they've been saying they were not involved in it. And why all of a sudden they would surrender is something that I can't understand.

HARRIS: So from all that you have learned about what happened that day, your experiences from being there at ground zero that day. Are you convinced these two men are guilty?

J. CROSS: I have not met either one of them. But I have heard comments made about them. And one comment was that the person was investigating the case and he was trying to get me to meet him in Birmingham and meet one of the accused, and this man was going to go to the church and confess his innocence .

HARRIS: In church?

J. CROSS: In church, and he wanted to know how I would react to it. I said: well, I think he would be welcome in the church and nobody would hurt him and -- but as there was never a date set. And finally he got him a lawyer and his lawyer told him don't give out any interviews or anything. And so everything was dropped.

HARRIS: Well, he is now being interviewed now, by the authorities.

Barbara, as I understand it, you could've very well have been one of those girls. There could have been five girls that we'd be talking about today and not four. You had a close brush, your Sunday school teacher actually kept you from being there.

BARBARA CROSS, BIRMINGHAM BOMBING WITNESS: That is correct. Three of the girls, Cynthia, Annie, and Carol were in my Sunday school class, and Sunday school started approximately at 9:30. The Sunday school lesson for that day was "a love that forgives." And little did we realize later, that we would have to draw upon the strength of that lesson, what happened probably about less than 45 minutes after Sunday school had started with an explosion. I was probably about 50 feet away from the bathroom, after Sunday school adjourned, my classmates went to the bathroom to prepare for the youth worship service. And I had given my -- well, I had plans to join them when my Sunday school teacher gave me an assignment and I gave Annie my wallet, and she was one of the ones that was killed.

HARRIS: So let me ask you then, since you came that close to actually being a victim in that bombing. How do you feel then, to have no resolution in this case after some 40 years? And if there is a resolution to come today, do you feel in some way cheated that it's taken so long?

B. CROSS: I think if you dwell upon it you get angry, but you have to just move on with life. I think, when you think about close to 36 to 37 years it takes to bring an indictment against an old crime, and you think about the girls were cheated of their life. They died in a prime of their life. So, it's kind of like a bittersweet victory that, even though the indictments were brought, and when I went with my dad, when they did the -- reopened the case, Janet Reno, I think, was sure -- assured that she would get some indictments. But we now have to wait again for the trial. And it just opens up old wounds, you have to kind of just relive the pain of the past.

HARRIS: I can see that you're doing so right now.

Reverend, I'll let you have the final word this morning. Even if these two men are not found to be guilty, but someone is today, tomorrow, next year, whenever, sometime fairly soon. Is it possible to forgive?

J. CROSS: Well, no, it isn't, in fact, that was the subject of our Sunday school lesson on that morning: A love that forgives. And little did I realize at that time that that would be one of the motivating factors in my life to seek to forgive those who committed such atrocities. And I think that's a part of the Christian's duty, to forgive people when you know that they have made a confession.

HARRIS: Well, it is our duty to continue on this morning. We certainly do thank you very much for your time and insight and for your heart felt feelings this morning. Reverend John Cross, and your daughter Barbara, good luck to both of you.

B. CROSS: Thank you.

J. CROSS: Thank you.

HARRIS: Take care.

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