WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On April 19, 1995, domestic terrorists Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people and injuring nearly 700 others. Beyond loss of life, the blast destroyed 324 buildings and damaged 258, and destroyed or burned 86 cars. The bomb remains the deadliest domestic terror attack in U.S. history.
Within an hour an a half of the blast, McVeigh was stopped and quickly linked to the the attack. Nichols was arrested, as well, and both were charged within days. McVeigh was motivated by a general dislike of the U.S. federal government, and especially angry about its handling of the siege at the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco, Texas exactly 2 years before, planning his attack for the 2-year anniversary of the deadly fire.
The bombing lead to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and legislation that increased protection around federal buildings. The Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on April 19, 2000, at the site of the bombing to commemorate the victims, and services are held yearly at the time of the explosion on April 19.
PLANNING A DOMESTIC TERROR ATTACK
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols met at basic training camp for the Army in 1988. A third accomplice, Michael Fortier, was his roommate in the army. The 3 were interested in survivalism, and they spend time expressing their hatred of the U.S. government. (1) They specifically were angered by the FBI's handling of 2 major events:
Ruby Ridge: In 1992, there was an 11-day standoff between Randy Weaver and some of his family and the FBI/United States Marshals Service after a shootout occurred when the Marshals Service went to their property after Weaver failed to appear on firearms charges. This shootout resulted in the death of 1 U.S. Marshal, Weaver's son, and their family dog. The subsequent FBI siege left Weaver's wife dead. (2)
Waco siege: This was the 1993 siege of a compound belonging to the "religious sect" (read: cult) the Branch Davidians, carried out by Texas state law enforcement and the U.S. military for 51 days. The ATF attempted to raid the ranch, believing they had illegal weapons, and a gun battle began killing agents and Davidians. It ended in a tear gas attack and a fire, which resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including 25 children and 2 pregnant women. (3)
So, these 3 losers are mad about these things and decide to bomb a federal building in a state that had nothing to do with either event to get back at them. But as stupid as that plan was, it took them some time to select their target.
McVeigh later claimed that he contemplated a series of assassinations instead of the bombing, and said he sometimes wished he had chosen that plan. Once he moved on from his mass-assassination dreams, he figured he would just bomb an empty federal building, but thought the message would be better received with immense loss of life. He had a list of criterion for attack sites, and he thought the building should house at least 2 of 3 federal law enforcement agencies: ATF, FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and considered the Secret Service or the U.S. Marshals Service as added bonuses. (1)
McVeigh had initially considered targets in Missouri, Arizona, Texas and Arkansas. One building he considered was a 40-story building in Little Rock, Arkansas, but chose against it as he was trying to minimize non-governmental casualties, and that building had other non-government shops on the ground floor.
And so, in December 1994, McVeigh and Fortier traveled to Oklahoma City to learn more about their new target: The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It had actually been targeted before by a white supremacist group, so McVeigh knew he was in great company. It was 9-stories and housed 14 federal agencies, including DEA, ATF, Social Security Administration, and recruiting office for the Army and Marine Corps.
Besides the amount of innocent government officials he could kill, it had other benefits: A glass front that would shatter, a large nearby parking lot that would protect occupants from nearby buildings, and open space around the building for better photo opportunities. They selected their target and planned to carry out their attack on April 19, 1995. Now, they just needed a bomb.
McVeigh and Nichols gathered (read: stole) materials to manufacture the bomb, and rented sheds to store their stuff. According to the Wikipedia page, at this time, after he had went to Oklahoma with him to inspect the building he wanted to bomb, McVeigh asked Fortier if he wanted to assist them, but he refused. However, McVeigh did show the bomb diagram to Fortier and his wife, Lori.
On April 14, McVeigh got a motel room in Kansas, rented a truck and drove to Oklahoma City to meet Nichols and their 1977 getaway car. They left it several blocks away from the building and left a note that said it was not abandaoned and not to tow it, it just needed a battery. Then they went back to Kansas.
In the days before the bomb, the 2 removed all of their supplies and began to actually assemble the bomb. They loaded the materials into the rental truck, which they planned to blow up. Once the truck bomb was ready, Nichols returned home and McVeigh went back to Kansas.
THE OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING (1)
Originally, McVeigh had planned to detonate the bomb at 11, but decided instead the morning of to do it at 9. He drove toward the building in the truck that would eventually detonate, and carried with him pages from a book about white supremacists igniting a revolution by blowing up FBI headquarters using a truck bomb at 9:15 AM. He also wore a political shirt, and carried yet another envelope with "revolutionary materials" including bumper stickers and book pages. (This guy also looks like a loser, it may be important to note at this stage.)
He got into the city at around 8:50 AM. Still driving the bomb-on-wheels, he lit the 5 minute fuse. Still a block away, 3 minutes later, he lit the 2 minute fuse. He parked the truck in a drop-off zone under the building's day-care center and headed to the getaway car.
At 9:02 AM, the truck that contained 4,800 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane and diesel fuel mixture (which means nothing to me but sounds like WAY too much of any of those items), detonated in front of the building.
It was estimated that 646 people were inside of the building at the time of the explosion. By the end of April 19th, 14 adults and 6 children were confirmed dead. Eventually, 168 people were confirmed dead. The majority of the deaths came from the collapse of the building, instead of the blast itself. The blast killed someone in another nearby building, a woman in the parking lot across the street, 2 people in another nearby building and a rescue worker.
The victims included 3 pregnant women, and the ages ranged from 3 months to 73 years old. 108 of the dead worked for the federal government, including the DEA (5), Secret Service (6), Department of Housing and Urban Development (35), Department of Agriculture (7), Customs (2), Department of Transportation/Federal Highway (11), General Services (2), and the Social Security Administration (40). 6 of the victims were U.S. military, 2 in the Army, 2 in the Air Force and 2 in the Marine Corps.
The remaining victims were civilians, including 19 children, 15 of which were in the America's Kids Day Care Center.
For those paying attention, McVeigh wanted to limit or altogether alleviate non-government deaths and really focus on ATF, DEA, FBI, Secret Service or U.S. Marshals Service. He ended up killing 5 members of the DEA and 6 members of the Secret Service. Of 168 innocent lives taken, only 11 even matched the criteria. He chose against a government building in Little Rock because of a florists shop on the ground floor... He didn't rule out the Murrah building because of the large day care?
He responded to this, the range of casualties, saying that women and children were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge, and "You put back in the government's faces exactly what they're giving out. I wanted the government to hurt like the people of Waco and Ruby Ridge had." Though later, he did say that he was unaware of the day-care center and said he may have switched targets if he knew.
Except for HE LITERALLY VISITED THE BUILDING JUST TO SCOUT IT OUT. Children became a big part of the media focus because 19 of the victims were some of the most innocent, babies and children. A photograph of a firefighter carrying a baby out of the rubble was widely spread and won awards, but apparently, the images and media reports of children dying terrorized many children, giving some of them PTSD. Mental health for children following the bombing became a priority.
Children were also majorly affected, as so many of them lost 1 or both parents in the blast. Seven children lost their only remaining parent, and the other children were left being raised without one of their parents, or in foster care or being raised by family members. Way to convey your anger at the government by killing a bunch of housing and transportation officials and nearly 20 KIDS, you absolute piece of garbage.
Within a minute of the bomb going off, over 1,800 911 calls came through and ambulances, police and firefighters were on their way. Nearby civilians were also arriving to help victims and emergency workers. 50 people were rescued within the first hour. In the following days, over 12,000 people helped with the relief and rescue operations. 1 nurse was killed in the rescue attempt and 26 other rescue workers were hospitalized.
Rescue efforts were not concluded until 12:05 AM on May 5, when all of the bodies except 3 were recovered. The building was demolished on May 23.
ARREST AND TRIALS OF THE KILLERS (1)
McVeigh was arrested within 90 minutes of detonating the bomb. He was stopped in a yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis (which seems like a super casual getaway car that would blend right in) by a State Trooper for driving without a license plate. He was arrested for having a concealed weapon. He was booked into jail, and when searching the car and looking into his background, the pieces started coming together, and he was identified as the bomber.
They got a warrant for his father's home, and authorities began searching for Terry Nichols, his accomplice. He turned himself in once he found out he was being hunted. McVeigh's sister, Jennifer, was also accused of mailing bullets to McVeigh, but received immunity for testifying in the trial. McVeigh, Nichols and Fortier were all tried in separate trials.
McVeigh's trial began on April 24, 1997. The prosecutor argued all of the obvious things, like his hatred of the government and all of the bomb materials they found. Fortier, his wife and McVeigh's sister all testified against him, among 130+ other witnesses.
Though McVeigh wanted to go with a "necessity defense" which would argue that he was in immediate danger and needed to prevent future government crimes, but probably logically, his defense just tried to go with reasonable doubt, trying to convince the jury that he could have been part of a larger conspiracy and he was just the "designated patsy" to go down. (The defense argued that an unidentified left leg could have been the left leg of another bomber, the mastermind, even though 8 different victims had been buried without a left leg.)
Ultimately, after 23 hours of deliberation, McVeigh was found guilty on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy (which seems super low given 168 people were killed), but he was sentenced to death. He was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, and it was broadcast on closed-circuit television so relatives of the victims could watch.
Terry Nichols was sentenced on June 4, 1998 to life in prison without parole. The State of Oklahoma, in 2000, sought a death-penalty conviction for 161 counts of first-degree murder, but a jury deadlocked on the issue. He was ultimately, instead, sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without parole.
Michael and Lori Fortier were tried s accomplices for knowing about the bombing, scouting the building and helping fake the driver's license to rent the truck. Michael agreed to testified against McVeigh for a reduced sentence and immunity for Lori. He was sentenced on May 21, 1998 to 12 years in prison and fined $75,000. He was released for good behavior into the Witness Protection Program on January 20, 2006.
MEMORIALS & AFTERMATH
The lives of 168 innocent people are remembered through various memorials, the largest being the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The memorial includes a reflecting pool with symbolic chairs, one for each person lost, representing the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims' families. Each year, a memorial service is held at this location. (1)
An annual marathon was also created that allows runners to sponsor a victim of the bombing. Anniversaries of the bombing are commemorated by a service starting at 9:02 AM, 168 seconds of silence, and children reading the names of the victims. This is the first year the commemoration will not take place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. (1)
New legislation was developed in response to the bomb, and Oklahoma School Curriculum was altered to include the events of April 19, 1995 to be included. Changes to building security and construction were implemented, as well, to prevent similar attacks. (1)
Today marks 25 years, a quarter of a century, since that terrible morning. In a statement from Bill Clinton today, who was in his 3rd year of presidency at the time of the attack, he said (4):
"Twenty-five years ago, the people of Oklahoma City made a decision that their future would not be defined by what was done to them, but by what they would do to move forward together. That choice has not made their pain any less real. But by shouldering their losses as one, with all of America standing behind them, they have emerged stronger."