Updated: May 12
THE OKC BOMBING
Wednesday, April 19, 1995
Timothy McVeigh transported that bomb via a Ryder rental truck. He stated that the fuse was long enough to last for 2 minutes, and during transport, a block away from the Alfred P. Murrah Building in a loading lane on the north side, near the intersection of N.W. 5th Street and Robinson Avenue., which was his targeted location, he was caught at a red light. He went a head and lit the fuse. He said “it was the longest red light he had ever been at.” The cab also filled with smoke as he sat there, which he had not anticipated. He had to roll the windows down and turn on the fan in the truck to try to clear it out so he didn't look suspicious. He got to the building, parked the truck, pulled the parking break, stepped out of the truck and made sure the door was locked behind him, and then he casually walked away towards
the YMCA caddy corner from the Murrah Building. He then went down an alley and towards the parking lot where he had left his getaway car, a beat up 1977 Mercury Marquis that he had purchased for $200. When he had stashed the car there before driving to Kansas to pick up the truck, he had left a note in the window that said “Not Abandoned. Please do not tow, will move by April 23 (needs battery cable).”
At 9:02 a.m., that bomb consisting of more than 4,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate exploded. The force of the explosion was of such magnitude that it destroyed approximately one-third of the Murrah Building. The entire north face of the structure was reduced to rubble and each of the nine floors, plus the roof, received extensive damage. Contents of the first and second floors were blown against the southern portion of the building, while the third through ninth floors were initially raised by the blast and then slammed downward – because gravity - and proceeded to pancake one atop the other at street level. That's 7 stories, all now at street level. When the dust cleared, approximately one-third of the structure was in a pile of debris, measuring in some places 35-feet in height and running the length of the building.
McVeigh felt the quake of the blast, so he knew that his “mission” was a success. He says he felt a sense of pride at that moment. As he enters his getaway car, it's so broken down that he initially cannot get it to start. There are screams in the streets as McVeigh is calmly trying to start his getaway car. He said later, “I said to myself, just be calm. You don't want to be apprehended in Oklahoma City 5 minutes after the blast.” He finally got it started and drove nonchalantly to the highway. He said he drove the speed limit and stopped at all traffic lights. In retrospect, if you were to look in calmly on this scene you would see emergency vehicles rushing to the scene, nearby cars overturned and on fire, people panicking and running from the building, and then this one car – calmly heading away from the scene, which would have been totally out of place among the chaos.
At the time of the blast, the Murrah Building housed some 600 federal and contract workers, as well as an estimated 250 visitors. Federal agencies housed in the Murrah Building included:
the ATF the DEA; the Secret Service; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Social Security Administration; the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps recruitment offices; the Veterans Administration; the General Accounting Office; the Department of Health and Human Services; the Department of Defense; the U.S. Customs Service; the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Transportation; and, the General Services Administration. An office of the Federal Employees Credit Union and the "America's Kids" Child Care Development Center were also housed in the building.
McVeigh said that he chose that location out of the phone book. He said he had scanned phone books of several states and was looking exclusively for federal buildings that housed multiple agencies in one building. He said “When you look at the address that's listed and see that all these agencies have the same address, you know you've found it.”
McVeigh said that he bombed the building on the second anniversary of the fire at Waco in 1993 to retaliate for U.S. government actions there and at the siege at Ruby Ridge. McVeigh rationalized the inevitable loss of life by concluding that anyone who worked in the federal building was guilty by association with those responsible for Waco.
The building was also chosen because it housed the ATF division that had conducted the raid on Waco.
Damage extended throughout Oklahoma City's downtown, covering an estimated 48-square-block area. The explosion overturned automobiles and numerous vehicles erupted into flames after the blast. Extensive structural damage was not limited to the Murrah Building, but also extended to the Regency Tower, a twenty-four story, 273-unit apartment complex, located one block to the west. Additionally, directly north of the Murrah Building, the two-story Oklahoma Water Resources Board office building, the six-story, historic, Journal Record Building, and the three-story Athenian Building received heavy damage. Surrounding structures which received the brunt of the explosion included the First Methodist Church and YMCA, to the east; the federal courthouse, to the south; and, the St. Joseph's Old Cathedral and Rectory, and U.S. Post Office, to the west. Over 300 buildings were all damaged in the blast.
The explosion knocked-out primary and back-up phone lines for the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA), the local ambulance service. Subsequently, 9-1- 1 was the only communication remaining. The first call for medical assistance was received by EMSA at 9:03:25 a.m. However, upon hearing the blast, seven EMS units responded from EMSA's headquarters (N.W. 10th St. & Walker Ave.). First-in fire companies were faced with an overwhelming rescue operation. The closest fire/emergency response units to the scene were at the Oklahoma City Fire Department's Station One, five blocks away. Emergency personnel and equipment from this station responded immediately to the bombing site.
As personnel approached the scene, firefighters encountered debris scattered throughout the streets, covering several blocks surrounding the Murrah Building. Passages had to be cleared manually to allow entry of responding equipment. Additionally, firefighters encountered injured victims fleeing the blast site. Victims remember smoke everywhere, hearing babies crying, and mothers screaming because they couldn't find their kids. Some even tried to run back into the building to find them. Most people were covered in blood and dirt, some with gaping wounds and some with burns and crush injuries. And some with all. Firefighters started searching for survivors at what would have been the day care center by removing rubble by hand.
Realizing that injuries would be numerous, two medical triage areas were quickly established. Without delay, fire, emergency medical, law enforcement personnel, voluntary organization workers and many civilians, entered the bombed structure in a massive search and rescue effort. In some instances, human chains were formed to accommodate the safe and rapid removal of victims as they were located. A minimum of two subsequent "bomb scares" forced the evacuation of these personnel. The evacuation of the structure allowed officials to create a controlled perimeter around the dangerous site. Rescue workers were not allowed to re-enter the site until confirmation was given that no additional explosive devices were located.
At 9:45 a.m. Governor Frank Keating ordered a "State of Emergency" and released from duty all Oklahoma City area, non-essential state personnel as a safety measure.
Accompanied by their staffs, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin arrived at the SEOC at 10:05 a.m. and received an immediate situation briefing from ODCEM Director Feuerborn.
By 10:35 a.m. Regional Director Young for FEMA Dallas had briefed FEMA headquarters in Washington D.C., and organized a group of key staff to accompany him to Oklahoma City. FEMA immediately put Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces from Phoenix, Arizona and Sacramento, California on alert and only 20 minutes later (at 10:55) activated each team for deployment to Oklahoma City.
The ATF and the DEA joined forces with the FBI and their respective staff spent the afternoon establishing the operations center, while field operations continued. Weldon Kennedy, of the Phoenix, Arizona office of the FBI, was assigned Special Agent-In-Charge.
Requests from the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office were channeled directly through the SEOC, though periodic visits were made to the temporary morgue, established at the First Methodist Church.
At 3:30 p.m. the First Christian Church was established by the State Medical Examiner's Office as the site of the "Family Assistance Center" (a.k.a. "The Compassion Center"). Immediate family members received accurate briefings directly from the State Medical Examiner's Office at this location twice daily. The Assistance Center provided information, mental health counseling, and comfort to those who had fallen victim to this event or who either lost or had missing family members in the building, and there were still 167 people missing.
Center support was provided by many organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association, and many pastors, chaplains, and mental health professionals throughout the area, state and nation. The American Red Cross opened a shelter for those displaced by the explosion. They also activated the National Disaster Services Human Resources Team to administer large scale disaster assistance to the victims of this incident. With donated goods and appropriate distribution becoming an increasing concern, Red Cross logistics support was provided from warehouses at the ICP and inside the damaged U.S. Post Office. Other logistics sites were provided by "Feed the Children", an Oklahoma City headquartered relief organization, and the Salvation Army.
The Oklahoma Restaurant Association had just finished their annual conference when the explosion occurred. Subsequently, they quickly established a 24-hour food service operation, at the Myriad Convention Center, to feed all emergency response workers. Eventually, the Myriad was established as a center which met the needs of all personnel responding to the incident. Donated clothing, food, equipment and supplies were available on a 24-hour basis. Other volunteer and donated services included over-the-counter pharmaceutical and personal hygiene items, hair care, optometric, chiropractic, and podiatric care, and massage therapy. AT&T provided free telephone calls home for the US&R Task Forces, complimented by a free mail and parcel delivery service provided by United Parcel Service. The Myriad also housed nine of the 11 US&R Task Forces.
At 4:00 p.m., CST, President Clinton announced that he had signed Emergency Declaration FEMA-3115-EM-OK. This declaration permits the federal government to provide emergency assistance to save lives, protect property, public health & safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of further damage. The signing of this declaration not only gave the federal government primary responsibility to respond to the disaster, but also authorized 100% federal financial reimbursement for all eligible response missions performed by local and state government.
The US&R Task Force from Phoenix arrived at approximately 10:45 p.m. to meet with command personnel, survey the incident structure, and to conduct a pre-work assessment of the overall situation. The Sacramento US&R Task Force arrived at 11:00 p.m.
At the site, the search and rescue mission continued for 17 days. The mountain of debris which was deposited on the north face of the Murrah Building was removed almost entirely by hand, in five-gallon buckets. This was done for three reasons: 1. The possibility that a survivor could be located and out of respect to each fatality and their families; 2. The continuing concern over the structural integrity of the building, which prevented the use of heavy equipment; and, 3. The control and analysis of each piece of debris removed for evidentiary purposes. The operation was also delayed by mother nature. During the 17-day mission, rescue workers were subjected to high winds, rain, sleet, lightening and hail on numerous occasions.
Shortly after midnight on May 5th, search and rescue operations were determined to be officially complete. It was anticipated at that time that three bodies remained in the rubble. Due to the believed location and potential safety hazards, the decision was made to leave the remaining bodies in the rubble until after the implosion of the structure. (Can you imagine making a call like that?!)
On April 26th, the State of Oklahoma requested and received Presidential Major Disaster Declaration FEMA-1048-DR-OK. This declaration activated a multitude of recovery and relief programs for victims' families, injured, small business owners and public entities. The RCC continues to meet on a weekly basis and to date has distributed over $2 million of donated funds. As soon as the President signed the declaration, the national toll-free teleregistration system was activated for victim registration. The Family Assistance Center (a.k.a. The Compassion Center) was officially transferred to the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services on May 5th and became known as "Project Heartland".
Friday May 5th, 1995: Rescue/recovery workers gather at the site for a memorial service, closed to the media.
For safety reasons, the remains of the building were to be demolished shortly afterward. However, McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, called for a motion to delay the demolition until the defense team could examine the site in preparation for the trial. More than a month after the bombing, The Alfred P. Murrah Building was imploded and the remains of the building were demolished at 7:02 a.m., Tuesday, May 23rd. The three remaining victims were found where predicted. The final three bodies, those of two credit union employees and a customer, were recovered. This would bring the final death count to 168, including 19 children and the Oklahoma City nurse who responded to the incident and was mortally wounded when struck in the head by a piece of debris. 98 of those who perished were government employees. and more than 700 known injuries. There were 388 people (340 adults, 48 kids from 3 months old to 85 years old) in the building at the time of the explosion, 163 of these perished.
6 survivors include a group of children from the day care center. One was in the bathroom at the time, and the others at a table near the back of where the blast had occurred.
One survivor had over 40 broken bones from crush injuries. She was put into a 5 week coma and when she finally came out, she had to be taught how to talk again, how to eat, how to brush her teeth, and she remains with compromised lungs to this day.
another had plaster from the building shoved up under skin in many places that had to be removed. She had face and neck injuries, an ear cut in half, and shrapnel taken from her back. She had a total of 4 feet of stitching done cumulatively all over her body.
Only three people were extricated alive after the first five hours following the explosion.
There were up to 50,000 people in the OKC area reportedly suffering PTSD related symptoms in the aftermath.
For several days after the demolition, trucks hauled 800 tons of debris a day away from the site. Some of it was used as evidence in the conspirators' trials, incorporated into parts of memorials, donated to local schools, and sold to raise funds for relief efforts.
Several remnants of the building stand on the site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The plaza (on what was once its south side) has been incorporated into the memorial; the original flagpole is still in use. The east wall (within the building's footprint) is intact, as well as portions of the south wall. The underground parking garage survived the blast and is used today, but is guarded and closed to the public.
The General Services Administration immediately sought to replace the facility. The building site is a transition zone between the Central Business District and the North Downtown neighborhood. The new 185,000 square foot building was designed by Ross Barney Architects of Chicago, Illinois, with Carol Ross Barney as the lead designer. Constructed on a two city block site, one block north and west of the former site, the new building's design maximized sustainable design and workplace productivity initiatives. Security design was paramount to the Federal employees and its neighbors. Secure design was achieved based on the GSA's current standards for secure facilities including blast resistant glazing. The Structural design resists progressive collapse.
Throughout the event, ODCEM utilized a full-time staff of 25 to maintain 24-hour operations. Since that time, six of the 25 have left the department, yet all should be commended for their determined efforts under extreme conditions.
Within 3 hours of the bombing, the rear axle of the truck that held the bomb was found by FBI. That axel had a VIN #. FBI identified it as a Ryder rental truck that was rented from Junction City, Kansas. When they got to Kansas, they visited Elliot's Body shop, and the man who rented it to him gave a description, but he had used the name Robert Kling to rent.
They began searching motels in the area and found Dreamland Motel, where the motel manager, Lea McGown, told them a man with a Ryder truck had rented a hotel room. When asked to look at the check in ticket, McVeigh had used his real name.
With the name now known, they did an arrest check to see if they could get a recent address and found that McVeigh was actually in jail at that exact moment in Noble County, Oklahoma. McVeigh had been sitting in a Jail cell in Perry, Oklahoma since the afternoon of the bombing.
Just 1 hour and 17 minutes after the bombing, While driving on I-35 in Noble County, near Perry, Oklahoma, in his getaway car, McVeigh was stopped by Oklahoma State Trooper Charles J. Hanger. Up until this point, McVeigh claims he thought he had made a clean getaway. Hanger had passed McVeigh's yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis and noticed that it had no license plate. McVeigh admitted to the state trooper (who noticed a bulge under his jacket) that he had a gun and McVeigh was subsequently arrested for having driven without plates and illegal firearm possession; McVeigh's concealed weapon permit was not legal in Oklahoma. According to people who booked him in jail, he was calm and unassuming, and not nervous at all.
It was during booking at the Noble Courthouse that while waiting, he saw the bombing on TV and the extent of his damage. His first reaction was, “damn, I didn't take the building completely down.” He waits all that day to be identified as the OKC bomber, but nothing happens.
McVeigh was wearing a T-shirt at that time with a picture of Abraham Lincoln and the motto: sic semper tyrannis ('Thus always to tyrants'), the supposed words shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln. On the back, it had a tree with a picture of three blood droplets and the Thomas Jefferson quote, "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
Two days later, while still in jail, McVeigh was identified as the subject of the nationwide manhunt. He claims that all of these mistakes were not oversights at all, but done on purpose to ensure that if it came down to him being killed during apprehension (or even being accidentally blown up by the bomb itself while placing it) he would be able to be identified and known as the OKC Bomber.
He had anticipated suicide by cop saying “I, in fact, may be, in a sense - a ground breaker for suicide by cop. The reason I call myself a ground breaker is because I knew all this before it happened. I knew that my objective was state-assisted suicide, and when it happens, in your face, motherfucker. In other words, I'm manipulating the system for my own gain. If you put it on a scoreboard, it's 168 to 1. So, I sit here today content that there's no way that they can beat me...”
He was arraigned the same day for the crimes he committed to get him in jail and was about to be released. If he had been identified as the bomber only an hour later, he would have been in the wind.
When investigators initially interviewed him, they showed him pictures of the carnage to try to get him to talk. He said “they showed me pictures of dead babies to try to get me to talk to make me feel bad or something, but it didn't work. I kept a straight face and said 'I wan't an attorney'.”
On Tim's driver's license there was an address for Decker Michigan. This lead police agents to the home of James Nicols, whom was the brother of Terry Nicols, who was living I Harrinton, Kansas. Because police believed both these men involved, they got a search warrant for Terry's home. They find: a receipt for 2000 lbs of fertilizer, a cordless drill, and a callling card in the name of Derrel Bridges who shared the same address in Decker, Michigan.
They traced calls and found a trail of calls placed to acquire materials for bomb building. They also found out about Michael Fortier.
In Herrington, Kansas that same afternoon, James and Terry Nicols, were arrested. Terry cooperates with authorities. Michael Fortier is arrested as well.
On August 10, 1995, McVeigh was indicted on eleven federal counts, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction with the use of explosives and eight counts of first-degree murder.
On February 20, 1996, the Court granted a change of venue and ordered that the case be transferred from Oklahoma City to the U.S. District Court in Denver, Colorado, to be presided over by U.S. District Judge Richard Paul Matsch.
Known hospital arrival modes.
Transportation Mode No. (%) (n=272)
Privately owned vehicle 152 (55.8)
EMS 90 (33.0)
Carried or walked 27 (9.9)
Other modes 3 (1.1)
THE TRIAL OF TIMOTHY MCVEIGH – APRIL 24TH, 1997
The U.S. Department of Justice had brought federal charges against McVeigh for causing the deaths of eight federal officers leading to a possible death penalty for McVeigh; they could not bring charges against McVeigh for the remaining 160 murders in federal court because those deaths fell under the jurisdiction of the State of Oklahoma.
McVeigh instructed his lawyers to use a necessity defense, but they ended up not doing so because they would have had to prove that McVeigh was in "imminent danger" from the government. (McVeigh himself argued that "imminent" did not necessarily mean "immediate.") They would have argued that his bombing of the Murrah building was a justifiable response to what McVeigh believed were the crimes of the U.S. government at Waco, Texas, where the 51-day siege complex resulted in the deaths of 76 cultists. As part of the defense, McVeigh's lawyers wanted to show the jury the controversial video Waco, the Big Lie.
Michael Fortier's testimony against Tim was damning. He felt very guilty about not warning anyone about Tim's plans. There were several other witnesses, mostly victim family members and survivors, that testified as well.
Closing arguments were made on May 29, 1997, and the district court charged the jury on May 30, 1997.
On June 2, 1997, after four days of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all eleven counts charged in the Indictment. After the verdict, McVeigh tried to calm his mother by saying, "Think of it this way. When I was in the Army, you didn't see me for years. Think of me that way now, like I'm away in the Army again, on an assignment for the military."
The penalty phase of trial commenced on June 4, 1997, and concluded with summations and jury instructions on June 12, 1997.
On June 13, 1997, The jury deliberated for two days before returning special findings recommending that McVeigh be sentenced to death. He appealed immediately.
After denying McVeigh's motion for a new trial, the district court accepted the jury recommendation on August 14, 1997, sentencing McVeigh to death on all eleven counts. McVeigh filed a timely notice of appeal that same day
Before the sentence was formally pronounced by Judge Matsch, McVeigh addressed the court for the first time and said:
I wish to use the words of Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead to speak for me. He wrote, 'Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.' That's all I have.
Because McVeigh was convicted and sentenced to death, the State of Oklahoma did not file murder charges against McVeigh for the other 160 deaths.
After his trial, in his confession tapes that were recorded shortly before his execution, he said:
I did this for the greater good.
He said he “The Turner Diaries” book taught him all he needed, along with his military background, to make an effective bomb, he just amplified it by using more volatile fuel.
He choose the date, April 19th, for the bombing, not only for the anniversary of WACO but the anniversary of 'The Shot Heard Around the World” 1775 – referring to the Revolutionary War.
He said he didn't love his parents, and the only man he every loved was his grandfather, Ed.
“The Rules of Engagement, if not written down, are defined by the actions of an aggressor. What Rules of Engagement would you interpret in examining Waco? Kids are fair game, women are fair game... With Oklahoma City being a counter attack, I was only fighting by the Rules of Engagement that were introduced by the aggressor. Waco started this war... hopefully Oklahoma would end it.”
He said that he had no problem sleeping in the truck that held the bomb on the way to the bombing location, which was across state lines. He said he “was at peace.”
Of the bombing casualties, he said, “people die everyday. We have plane crashed where 100-200 die and those are unexpected losses. We have to accept it and move on.” “I have no problem looking at the victims and saying, 'you aren't the first mother to lose a kid, you're not the first grandmother to lose a grandson. Get over it.” He obviously never felt any remorse whatsoever.
On July 13th, 1999, McVeigh is transferred to the death row unit in Terre Haute (Tara Hote), Indiana.
June 11th, 2001, he is brought to the death chamber.
When asked what he was feeling on the gurney? “Contentment and peace.”
His execution would be the first in 38 years within the federal prison system.
People from all over the world congregated outside the prison to see it through and to celebrate his death.
McVeigh invited Kate McCulley and Lou Michelle (The man who recorded his confession tapes) to witness his execution. Kate reports that he looked at her and mouthed the words “it's okay” just before.
7:14 am, he was executed by lethal injection. More than 200 survivors and victim's families witnessed it on closed circuit television. He made no last statements.
He was 33 years old when he was executed. His ashes were spread in an undisclosed location.
On May 26th, 2004, Terry Nichols was convicted of 161 counts of first degree murder and sentenced to 161 consecutive life sentences without parole the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to warn authorities about the attack. In 2006, After serving 10 ½ years, Fortier was released for good behavior. He is now in the witness protection program under a new identify.
Within the halls of the Memorial Museum – a building that withstood the bombing – are artifacts, interactive displays and videos that lend themselves to a self-guided tour that visitors can take to learn about the events of that day, the people affected, the investigation and the overall resiliency of hope. In 2020, the Memorial Store will have new items commemorating the 25th anniversary year and the Memorial's Looking Back | Thinking Forward campaign.
Adjacent to the museum is the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial. Where the Murrah Building once stood are now symbolic elements honoring all who were touched directly or indirectly by the bombing, including the Field of Empty Chairs, the Survivor Tree, Survivor Wall, Reflecting Pool, Rescuers' Orchard, Children's Area and Gates of Time.