Oklahoma City bombing:


Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States


35°28′22.4″N 97°31′01″W / 35.472889°N 97.51694°W / 35.472889; -97.51694Coordinates: 35°28′22.4″N 97°31′01″W / 35.472889°N 97.51694°W / 35.472889; -97.51694


Wednesday April 19, 1995
9:02 a.m. CST (

Attack type

Truck bomb






Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols

The Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995 when American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh, with the assistance of Terry Nichols, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.[1] It was the most significant act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11 attacks in 2001, claiming the lives of 168 victims and injuring more than 680.[2][3] The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen–block radius,[4] destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings.[5] The bomb was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage.[6]

Motivated by the federal government's handling of the Waco Siege (1993) and the Ruby Ridge incident (1992), McVeigh's attack was timed to coincide with the second anniversary of the Waco Siege.[7][8] Within 90 minutes of the explosion McVeigh was stopped by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger for driving without a license plate, and arrested for unlawfully carrying a weapon.[9] Forensic evidence quickly linked McVeigh and Nichols to the attack, and within days they were arrested and charged; Michael and Lori Fortier were later identified as accomplices. Extensive rescue efforts were undertaken by local, state, federal, and worldwide agencies in the wake of the bombing, and substantial donations were received from across the country. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated eleven of its Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, consisting of 665 rescue workers who assisted in rescue and recovery operations.[10][11]

The official investigation, known as "OKBOMB," was the largest criminal investigation case in American history; FBI agents conducted 28,000 interviews, amassing 3.5 short tons (3.2 t) of evidence, and collecting nearly one billion pieces of information.[12][13][14] The bombers were tried and convicted in 1997. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, and Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. Michael and Lori Fortier testified against McVeigh and Nichols; Michael was sentenced to twelve years in prison for failing to warn the U.S. government, and Lori received immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. As with other large-scale terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories dispute the official claims and allege the involvement of additional perpetrators.

As a result of the bombing, the U.S. government passed legislation designed to prevent future terrorist attacks by increasing the protection around federal buildings. From 1995 to 2005, over 60 domestic terrorism plots were foiled due to preventive measures taken in response to the bombing.[15][16] On April 19, 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on the site of the Murrah Federal Building, commemorating the victims of the bombing. Annual remembrance services are held




McVeigh and Nichols cited the federal government's actions against the Branch Davidian compound in the 1993 Waco Siege (shown above) as a reason they perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing.

The chief conspirators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, met in 1988 at Fort Benning during basic training for the U.S. Army.[17] Michael Fortier, McVeigh's accomplice, was his Army roommate.[18] The three shared interests in survivalism and held anti-government views including opposition to gun control. They also expressed anger at the federal government's handling of the 1992 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) standoff with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge as well as the Waco Siege—a 1993 51-day standoff between the FBI and Branch Davidian members which ended with the deaths of David Koresh and 75 others.[19] In March 1993, McVeigh visited the Waco site during the standoff, and then again after its conclusion.[20] McVeigh later decided to bomb a federal building as a response to the raids.[8][21][22][23]

In August 1994, McVeigh obtained nine Kinestiks from gun dealer Roger E. Moore, and ignited the devices with Nichols outside Nichols' home in Herington, Kansas.[24][25] On September 30, 1994, Nichols bought forty 50-pound (23 kg) bags of ammonium nitrate from Mid-Kansas Coop in McPherson, Kansas, an amount regarded as unusual even for a farmer. Nichols bought an additional 50-pound (23 kg) bag on October 18.[21] McVeigh approached Fortier and asked him to assist with the bombing project, but he refused, saying he would never be part of the plan "... unless there was a U.N. tank in my front yard!"[26] McVeigh responded, "What if the tank was in your neighbor's yard? Wouldn't you go to your neighbor's aid? What if it was in the yard of David Koresh?" McVeigh was however unable to persuade Fortier to take part in the bomb attack.[27]

Target selection

McVeigh initially intended only to destroy a federal building, but he later decided that his message would be better received if many people were killed in the bombing.[28] McVeigh's criterion for potential attack sites was that the target should house at least two of three federal law-enforcement agencies: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He regarded the presence of additional law-enforcement agencies, such as the Secret Service or the U.S. Marshals Service, to be a bonus.[29]

McVeigh, a resident of Kingman, Arizona, considered targets in Arkansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Texas, which included a 40-story government building in Little Rock, Arkansas.[29] Wanting to minimize nongovernmental casualties, he ruled out the building in Little Rock because of the presence of a florist's shop on the ground floor.[30] In December 1994, McVeigh and Fortier visited Oklahoma City to inspect their target: the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.[21] The nine-story building, built in 1977, was named for a federal judge and housed fourteen federal agencies.[31] The Murrah building was chosen for its glass front—which was expected to shatter under the impact of the blast—and its adjacent large, open parking lot across the street, which might absorb and dissipate some of the force, and protect the occupants of nearby non-federal buildings.[30] In addition, McVeigh believed that the open space around the building would provide better photo opportunities for propaganda purposes.[30] The attack was planned to take place on April 19, 1995, to coincide with the anniversary of the Waco Siege and the 220th anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.[32]


Early preparations

McVeigh and Nichols purchased or stole the materials they needed to manufacture the bomb, which they stored in rented sheds. They allegedly robbed gun collector Roger E. Moore in his home of $60,000 worth of guns, gold, silver, and jewels, transporting the property in his own van.[26] However, doubts have been raised about Nichols and McVeigh's involvement in the robbery for several reasons. Despite McVeigh previously visiting Moore's ranch, the robbers wore ski masks (making a positive identification impossible) and the physical description given did not match Nichols.[33] Also, Aryan Republican Army robbers were operating in the area of Moore's ranch at the time.[33] Moreover, McVeigh did not need to raise money for the bomb, which only cost about $5,000. In all, the truck rental cost about $250, the fertilizer less than $500, and the nitromethane $2,780, with a cheap car being used as a getaway vehicle.[34] McVeigh wrote a letter to Moore in which he claimed that the robbery had been committed by government agents.[35] Regardless, items that were stolen from Moore were later found in Nichols' home and a storage shed he had rented.[36][37]

In October 1994, McVeigh showed Michael Fortier and his wife, Lori, a diagram he had drawn indicating the layout of a bomb he wanted to build.[1] McVeigh planned to construct a bomb containing more than 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, mixed with about 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of liquid nitromethane and 350 pounds (160 kg) of Tovex. Including the weight of the sixteen 55-gallon drums in which the explosive mixture was packed, the bomb had a combined weight of about 7,000 pounds (3,200 kg).[38] McVeigh had originally intended to use hydrazine rocket fuel, but it proved to be too expensive.[26] In October 1994, disguised as a motorcycle racer, McVeigh was able to obtain three 54-US-gallon (200 l) drums of nitromethane on the pretense that he and some fellow bikers needed the fuel for racing.[39] McVeigh rented a storage space, in which he stockpiled seven crates of 18-inch-long Tovex sausages, 80 spools of shock tube, and 500 electric blasting caps, which he and Nichols had stolen from a Martin Marietta Aggregates quarry in Marion, Kansas. He decided not to steal any of the 40,000 pounds (18,000 kg) of ANFO he found at the scene, as he did not believe it to be powerful enough (although he did obtain seventeen bags of ANFO from another source for use in the bomb). McVeigh made a prototype bomb using a plastic Gatorade jug containing ammonium nitrate prills, liquid nitromethane, a piece of Tovex sausage, and a blasting cap.[40] The prototype was detonated in the desert to avoid detection.[40]

"Think about the people as if they were storm troopers in Star Wars. They may be individually innocent, but they are guilty because they work for the Evil Empire."

—McVeigh reflecting on the deaths of victims in the bombing[41]

Later, speaking about the military mindset with which he went about the preparations, he said, "You learn how to handle killing in the military. I face the consequences, but you learn to accept it." He compared his actions to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than the attack on Pearl Harbor, reasoning it was necessary to prevent more lives from being lost.[41]

On April 14, 1995, McVeigh paid for a motel room at the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas.[42] The following day he rented a Ryder truck under the name Robert D. Kling, an alias he adopted because he knew an Army soldier named Kling with whom he shared physical characteristics, and because it reminded him of the Klingon warriors of the Star Trek media franchise.[42][43] On April 16, he drove to Oklahoma City with fellow conspirator Nichols where he parked a getaway car several blocks away from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.[44] The nearby Regency Towers Apartments' lobby security camera recorded images of Nichols' pickup truck as it drove to the federal building.[45] After removing the license plate from the car, he left a note covering the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate that read, "Not abandoned. Please do not tow. Will move by April 23. (Needs battery & cable)."[21][46] Both men then returned to Kansas.


Building the bomb

On April 17–18, McVeigh and Nichols loaded 108 bags of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer weighing 50 pounds (23 kg) each, three 55-US-gallon (210 l) drums of liquid nitromethane, several crates of explosive Tovex, seventeen bags of ANFO, and spools of shock tube and cannon fuse into the Ryder truck from their storage unit in Herington, Kansas, where Nichols lived.[47] The two then drove to Geary County State Lake, where they nailed boards onto the floor of the trucks to hold the thirteen barrels in place and mixed the chemicals using plastic buckets and a bathroom scale.[48] Each filled barrel weighed nearly 500 pounds (230 kg).[49] McVeigh added more explosives to the driver's side of the cargo bay, which he could ignite at close range (at the cost of his own life), with his Glock 21 pistol if the primary fuses failed.[50] During McVeigh's trial, Lori Fortier (the wife of Michael Fortier) stated that McVeigh claimed to have arranged the barrels in order to form a shaped charge.[1] This was achieved by tamping the aluminum side panel of the truck with bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer to direct the blast laterally towards the building.[51] Specifically, McVeigh arranged the barrels in the shape of a backwards J; he said later that for pure destructive power, he would have put the barrels on the side of the cargo bay closest to the Murrah Building; however, such an unevenly distributed 7,000-pound (3,200 kg) load might have broken an axle, flipped the truck over, or at least caused it to lean to one side, which could have drawn attention.[49]

McVeigh then added a dual-fuse ignition system accessible from the truck's front cab. He drilled two holes in the cab of the truck under the seat, while two holes were also drilled in the van of the truck. One green cannon fuse was run through each hole into the cab. These time-delayed fuses led from the cab of the truck, through plastic fish-tank tubing conduit, to two sets of non-electric blasting caps.[49] The tubing was painted yellow to blend in with the truck's livery, and duct-taped in place to the wall to make them harder to disable by yanking from the outside.[49] The fuses were set up to initiate, through shock tubes, the 350 pounds (160 kg) of Tovex Blastrite Gel "sausages", which would in turn set off the configuration of barrels. Of the thirteen filled barrels, nine contained ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, and four contained a mixture of the fertilizer and about 4-US-gallon (15 l) of diesel fuel.[49] Additional materials and tools used for manufacturing the bomb were left in the truck to be destroyed in the blast.[49] After finishing the truck bomb, the two men separated; Nichols returned home to Herington and McVeigh with the truck to Junction City.



McVeigh's movement in the Ryder truck (red dashed line) and escape on foot (blue dashed line) on the day of the bombing

An aerial view, looking from the north, of the destruction

McVeigh's original plan had been to detonate the bomb at 11:00 a.m. CST, but at dawn on April 19, he decided instead to destroy the building at 9:00 a.m. CST.[52] As he drove toward the Murrah Federal Building in the Ryder truck, McVeigh carried with him an envelope whose contents included pages from The Turner Diaries—a fictional account of modern-day revolutionary activists who rise up against the government and create a full-scale race war.[21] He wore a printed T-shirt with the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis ("Thus always to tyrants", which was shouted by John Wilkes Booth immediately after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) and "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" (from Thomas Jefferson).[32] McVeigh also carried an envelope of anti-government materials. These included a bumper sticker with Samuel Adams' slogan, "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." Underneath, McVeigh had scrawled, "Maybe now, there will be liberty!" Another item included a quote by John Locke, asserting that a man has a right to kill someone who takes away his liberty.[21][53]

McVeigh entered Oklahoma City at 8:50 a.m. CST.[54] At 8:57 a.m. CST the same Regency Towers Apartments' lobby security camera—which had recorded Nichols' pickup truck three days earlier—recorded the Ryder truck heading towards the Murrah Federal Building.[55] Also at 8:57 a.m. CST, McVeigh lit the five-minute fuse. Three minutes later, still a block away, he lit the two-minute fuse. He parked the Ryder truck in a drop-off zone situated under the building's day-care center, exited and locked the truck, and as he headed to his getaway vehicle, dropped the keys to the truck a few blocks away.[56]

At 9:02 a.m. CST, the Ryder truck, containing in excess of 4,800 pounds (2,200 kg)[57] of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel mixture, detonated in front of the north side of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.[1] One third of the building was destroyed by the explosion,[58] which created a 30-foot (9.1 m) wide, 8-foot (2.4 m) deep crater on NW 5th Street next to the building.[59] The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius,[4] and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings.[5] The broken glass alone accounted for 5% of the death total and 69% of the injuries outside the Murrah Federal Building.[60] The blast destroyed or burned 86 cars around the site, causing secondary explosions from the vehicles' gas tanks and tires.[5][61] The destruction of the buildings left several hundred people homeless and shut down multiple offices in downtown Oklahoma City.[62] The explosion was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage.[6]

The effects of the blast were equivalent to over 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of TNT,[51][63] and could be heard and felt up to 55 miles (89 km) away.[62] Seismometers at Science Museum Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, 4.3 miles (6.9 km) away, and in Norman, Oklahoma, 16.1 miles (25.9 km) away, recorded the blast as measuring approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale.[64]


Initially, the FBI had three theories on who had committed the bombing. The first was that it was international terrorism, possibly by the same group who had carried out the World Trade Center bombing two years earlier. The FBI also thought that a drug cartel may have been acting out of vengeance against DEA agents, as the building held a DEA office. The last theory was that the bombing was done by Christian fascists acting on conspiracy theories.[65]

McVeigh was arrested within 90 minutes of the explosion,[66] as he was traveling north on Interstate 35 near Perry in Noble County, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger stopped McVeigh for driving his yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis without a license plate, and arrested him for having a concealed weapon.[67] For his home address, McVeigh falsely claimed he resided at Terry Nichols' brother James' house in Michigan.[68] After booking McVeigh, Hanger searched his police car and found a business card McVeigh had hidden while he was handcuffed.[69] The card, for a Wisconsin military surplus store, had the words "TNT at $5 a stick. Need more." written on the back.[70] The card was later used as evidence during McVeigh's trial.[70]

Using the VIN from an axle of the truck used in the explosion, and the remnants of the license plate, federal agents were able to link the truck to a specific Ryder rental agency in Junction City; using a sketch created with the assistance of Eldon Elliot, owner of the agency, the agents were able to implicate McVeigh in the bombing.[12][21][71] McVeigh was also identified by Lea McGown of the Dreamland Motel, who remembered him parking a large yellow Ryder truck in the lot; moreover, McVeigh had signed in under his real name at the motel, using an address that matched the one on his forged license and the charge sheet at the Perry Police Station.[9][21] Before signing into the hotel, McVeigh had used false names for his transactions; McGown noted, "People are so used to signing their own name that when they go to sign a phony name, they almost always go to write, and then look up for a moment as if to remember the new name they want to use. That's what [McVeigh] did, and when he looked up I started talking to him, and it threw him."[21]


After an April 21 court hearing on the gun charges, but before McVeigh's release, federal agents took him into custody as they continued their investigation into the bombing.[21] Rather than talk to investigators about the bombing, McVeigh demanded an attorney. Having been tipped off by the arrival of police and helicopters that a bombing suspect was inside, a restless crowd began to gather outside the jail. McVeigh's requests for a bulletproof vest or transport by helicopter were denied.[72]

Federal agents obtained a warrant to search the house of McVeigh's father, Bill, following which they broke down the door and wired the house and telephone with listening devices.[73] FBI investigators used this information along with the fake address McVeigh had provided to begin their search for the Nichols brothers, Terry and James.[68] On April 21, Terry learned that he was being hunted, and he turned himself in.[74] Investigators discovered incriminating evidence at his home: ammonium nitrate and blasting caps; the electric drill used to drill out the locks at the quarry; books on bomb-making; a copy of Hunter, the 1989 novel by William Luther Pierce, the late founder and chairman of the white nationalist National Alliance; and, a hand-drawn map of downtown Oklahoma City, which included the Murrah Building and the spot where McVeigh's getaway car was hidden.[75][76] After a nine-hour interrogation, Nichols was formally held in federal custody until his trial for involvement in the bombing.[77] On April 25, James was also arrested but he was released after 32 days for lack of evidence.[78] McVeigh's sister Jennifer was accused of illegally mailing bullets to McVeigh,[79] but she was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against him.[80]

Ibrahim Ahmad, a Jordanian-American traveling from his home in Oklahoma City to visit family in Jordan on April 19 was also arrested in what was described as an "initial dragnet". Because of his background, the media were initially concerned that Middle Eastern terrorists could be behind the attack. Further investigation, however, cleared Ahmad of any involvement in the bombing.[81][82]


It is estimated that 646 people were inside the building when the bomb exploded.[83] By the end of the day of the bombing, twenty were confirmed dead, including six children, and over one hundred injured.[84] The toll eventually reached 168 confirmed dead, not including an unmatched leg that could have belonged to a possible, unidentified 169th victim.[2] Most of the deaths resulted from the collapse of the building, rather than the bomb blast.[85] Those killed included 163 who were in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, one person in the Athenian Building, one woman in a parking lot across the street, a man and woman in the Oklahoma Water Resources building, and a rescue worker struck on the head by debris.[86]

The victims ranged in age from three months to seventy-three, not including the fetuses of three pregnant women.[86][87] Of the dead, 99 worked for the federal government.[88] Nineteen of the victims were children, fifteen of whom were in the America's Kids Day Care Center.[89] The bodies of the 168 victims were identified at a temporary morgue set up at the scene.[90] A team of 24, which included sixteen specialists, used full-body X-rays, dental examinations, fingerprinting, blood tests, and DNA testing.[88][91][92] Over 680 people were injured; the majority of the injuries were caused by abrasions, severe burns, and bone fractures.[3]

McVeigh later reflected on killing children in the bombing: "I didn't define the rules of engagement in this conflict. The rules, if not written down, are defined by the aggressor. It was brutal, no holds barred. Women and kids were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge. You put back in [the government's] faces exactly what they're giving out."[93]

 Response and relief:

At 9:03:25 a.m. CST, the first of over 1,800 9-1-1 calls related to the bombing was received by Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA).[94] By that time, EMSA ambulances, police, and firefighters were already headed to the scene, having heard the blast.[95] Nearby civilians, who had also witnessed or heard the blast, arrived to assist the victims and emergency workers.[58] Within 23 minutes of the bombing, the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) was set up, consisting of representatives from the state departments of public safety, human services, military, health, and education. Assisting the SEOC were agencies such as the National Weather Service, the Air Force, the Civil Air Patrol, and the American Red Cross.[10] Immediate assistance also came from 465 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, who arrived within the hour to provide security, and from members of the Department of Civil Emergency Management.[95] Within the first hour, 50 people were rescued from the Murrah Federal Building.[96] Victims were sent to every hospital in the area. At the end of the first day of rescue efforts, 153 had been treated at St. Anthony Hospital, eight blocks from the blast, over 70 at Presbyterian, 41 at University, and 18 at Children's.[97] Temporary silences were observed so that sensitive listening devices capable of detecting human heartbeats could be used to locate survivors. In some cases, limbs had to be amputated without anesthetic (avoided due to its potential to cause a deadly coma) in order to free those trapped under rubble.[98] Periodically the scene had to be evacuated after police received tips claiming that other bombs had been planted in the building.[72]

At 10:28 a.m. CST rescuers found what they believed to be a second bomb, but some rescue workers refused to leave until police ordered the mandatory evacuation of a four-block area around the site.[94][99] The device was determined to be a three-foot (.9-m) long TOW missile used in the training of federal agents and bomb-sniffing dogs,[5][100] but although inert had been marked "live" to fool arms traffickers in a planned law enforcement sting.[100] On examination the missile was determined to be inert, and relief efforts resumed 45 minutes after its discovery.[100][101] The last survivor, a fifteen-year-old girl found under the base of the collapsed building, was rescued at about 7:00 p.m. CST.[102]

In the days following the blast, over 12,000 people participated in relief and rescue operations. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated eleven of its Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, consisting of a team of 665 rescue workers who assisted in rescue and recovery operations.[10][11] One nurse was killed in the rescue attempt after she was hit on the head by debris, and 26 other rescuers were hospitalized because of various injuries.[103] Twenty-four K-9 units and out-of-state dogs were brought in to search for survivors and bodies in the building refuse.[5][104][105] In an effort to recover additional bodies, 100 to 350 short tons (91 to 320 t) of rubble were removed from the site each day from April 24 to April 29.[106]


The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building is demolished on May 23, 1995, over a month after the incident. The bomb was constructed from a Ryder truck similar to the one that is visible in the lower left of the photograph.

Rescue and recovery efforts were concluded at 12:05 a.m. CST on May 5, by which time the bodies of all but three of the victims had been recovered.[58] For safety reasons, the building was 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.[107] More than a month after the bombing, at 7:02 a.m. CST on May 23, the Murrah Federal building was demolished.[58][108] The final three bodies, those of two credit union employees and a customer, were recovered.[109] For several days after the building's demolition, trucks hauled 800 short tons (730 t) of debris a day away from the site. Some of the debris was used as evidence in the conspirators' trials, incorporated into memorials, donated to local schools, or sold to raise funds for relief efforts.[110]

Humanitarian aid

The national humanitarian response was immediate, and in some cases even overwhelming. Large numbers of items such as wheelbarrows, bottled water, helmet lights, knee pads, rain gear, and even football helmets were donated.[10][65] The sheer quantity of such donations caused logistical and inventory control problems until drop-off centers were set up to accept and sort the goods.[58] The Oklahoma Restaurant Association, which was holding a trade show in the city, assisted rescue workers by providing 15,000 to 20,000 meals over a ten-day period.[111]

The Salvation Army served over 100,000 meals and provided over 100,000 ponchos, gloves, hard hats, and knee pads to rescue workers.[112] Local residents and those from further afield responded to the requests for blood donations.[113][114] Of the 9,000 units of blood donated 131 units were used, the rest were stored in blood banks.[115]

Federal and state government aid


Bill Clinton's notes for address to the Oklahoma City bombing victims on April 23, 1995.

At 9:45 a.m. CST, Governor Frank Keating declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-essential workers in the Oklahoma City area to be released from their duties for their safety.[58] President Bill Clinton learned about the bombing around 9:30 a.m. CST while he was meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller at the White House.[84][116] Prior to addressing the nation, President Clinton wanted to ground all planes in the Oklahoma City area to prevent the bombers from escaping by air, but decided against it.[117] At 4:00 p.m. CST, President Clinton declared a federal emergency in Oklahoma City[95] and spoke to the nation:[84]

The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it, and I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.

He ordered that flags for all federal buildings be flown at half-staff for 30 days in remembrance of the victims.[118] Four days later, on April 23, Clinton spoke from Oklahoma City.[119]

No major federal financial assistance was made available to the survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing, but the Murrah Fund set up in the wake of the bombing succeeded in attracting over $300,000 in federal grants.[10] Over $40 million was donated to the city to aid disaster relief and to compensate the victims.[120] Funds were initially distributed to families who needed it to get back on their feet, and the rest was held in trust for longer-term medical and psychological needs.[120] As of 2005, $18 million of the donations remained, some of which was earmarked to provide a college education for each of the 219 children who lost one or both parents in the bombing.[120] A committee chaired by Daniel Kurtenbach of Goodwill Industries provided financial assistance to the survivors.[121]

International reaction

International reactions to the bombing varied. President Clinton received many messages of sympathy, including those from Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Yasser Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Narasimha Rao of India.[122] Iran condemned the bombing as an attack on innocent people, but also blamed U.S. policy for inciting it. Kuwaiti parliament member Ahmed Baqer stated "This is a criminal act. No religion and no law permit such acts. A lot of civilians and children were killed. This is against human rights. This is against logic. We as a movement reject this kind of action."[122] Other condolences came from Russia, Canada, Australia, the United Nations, and the European Union, among other nations and organizations.[122][123]

Several countries offered to assist in the rescue efforts and investigation. France offered a special rescue unit,[122] and Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin offered to send agents with "anti-terrorist expertise" to help in the investigation.[123] President Clinton declined Israel's offer, believing that to accept it would increase anti-Muslim sentiments and endanger Muslim-Americans.[117]

Children terrorized:

Charles Porter's photograph of firefighter Chris Fields holding the dying infant Baylee Almon won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1996. A similar photo was taken by Lester LaRue.[124]

In the wake of the bombing, the national media seized upon the fact that nineteen of the victims had been babies and children, many in the day-care center. At the time of the bombing, there were 100 day-care centers in the United States in 7,900 federal buildings.[117] McVeigh later stated that he was unaware of the day-care center when choosing the building as a target, and if he had known "... it might have given me pause to switch targets. That's a large amount of collateral damage."[125] However, the FBI stated that McVeigh scouted the interior of the building in December 1994 and likely knew of the day-care center before the bombing.[21][125]

Schools across the country were dismissed early and ordered closed. A photograph of firefighter Chris Fields emerging from the rubble with infant Baylee Almon, who later died in a nearby hospital, was reprinted worldwide and became a symbol of the attack. The photo, taken by utility company employee Charles H. Porter IV, won the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography.[126][127] The images and thoughts of children dying terrorized many children who, as demonstrated by later research, showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.[128]

President Clinton stated that after seeing images of babies being pulled from the wreckage, he was "beyond angry" and wanted to "put [his] fist through the television".[129] Clinton and his wife Hillary requested that aides talk to child care specialists about how to communicate with the children regarding the bombing. President Clinton spoke to the nation three days after the bombing, saying: "I don't want our children to believe something terrible about life and the future and grownups in general because of this awful thing ... most adults are good people who want to protect our children in their childhood and we are going to get through this".[130] On April 22, the Clintons spoke in the White House with over 40 federal agency employees and their children, and in a live nationwide television and radio broadcast, addressed their concerns.[131][132]

Media coverage

Hundreds of news trucks and members of the press arrived at the site to cover the story. The press immediately noticed that the bombing took place on the second anniversary of the Waco incident.[84] Many initial news stories, however, hypothesized the attack had been undertaken by Islamic terrorists, such as those who had masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.[133][134][135] Some responded to these reports by attacking Muslims and people of Arab descent.[107][136]

As the rescue effort wound down, the media interest shifted to the investigation, arrests, and trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and on the search for an additional suspect named "John Doe Number Two". Several witnesses had claimed to see the second suspect with McVeigh who did not resemble Nichols.[137][138

Trials and sentencing of the conspirators

Rescue Team 5 remembers the victims who died in the bombing

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) led the official investigation, known as OKBOMB,[139] with Weldon L. Kennedy acting as Special Agent in charge.[140] Kennedy oversaw 900 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel including 300 FBI agents, 200 officers from the Oklahoma City Police Department, 125 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, and 55 officers from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety.[141] The crime task force was deemed the largest since the investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy.[141] OKBOMB was the largest criminal case in America's history, with FBI agents conducting 28,000 interviews, amassing 3.5 short tons (3.2 t) of evidence, and collecting nearly one billion pieces of information.[12][13][14] Federal judge Richard Paul Matsch ordered the venue for the trial be moved from Oklahoma City to Denver, Colorado, citing that the defendants would be unable to receive a fair trial in Oklahoma.[142] The investigation led to the separate trials and convictions of McVeigh, Nichols, and Fortier.

Timothy McVeigh

Main article: Timothy McVeigh

Opening arguments in McVeigh's trial began on April 24, 1997. The United States was represented by a team of prosecutors led by Joseph Hartzler. In his opening statement Hartzler outlined McVeigh's motivations, and the evidence against him. McVeigh, he said, had developed a hatred of the government during his time in the army, after reading The Turner Diaries. His beliefs were supported by what he saw as the militia's ideological opposition to increases in taxes and the passage of the Brady Bill, and were further reinforced by the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents.[7] The prosecution called 137 witnesses, including Michael Fortier, Michael's wife Lori Fortier, and McVeigh's sister, Jennifer McVeigh, all of whom testified to confirm McVeigh's hatred of the government and his desire to take militant action against it.[143] Both Fortiers testified that McVeigh had told them of his plans to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Michael revealed that McVeigh had chosen the date, and Lori testified that she created the false identification card McVeigh used to rent the Ryder truck.[144]

McVeigh was represented by a defense counsel team of six principal attorneys led by Stephen Jones.[145] According to law professor Douglas O. Linder, McVeigh wanted Jones to present a "necessity defense"—which would argue that he was in "imminent danger" from the government (that his bombing was intended to prevent future crimes by the government, such as the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents).[144] McVeigh argued that "imminent" does not mean "immediate": "If a comet is hurtling toward the earth, and it's out past the orbit of Pluto, it's not an immediate threat to Earth, but it is an imminent threat."[146] Despite McVeigh's wishes, Jones attempted to discredit the prosecution's case in an attempt to instill reasonable doubt. Jones also believed that McVeigh was part of a larger conspiracy, and sought to present him as "the designated patsy".[144][147] However McVeigh disagreed with Jones arguing that rationale for his defense. After a hearing, Judge Matsch independently ruled the evidence concerning a larger conspiracy to be too insubstantial to be admissible.[144][147] In addition to arguing that the bombing could not have been carried out by two men alone, Jones also attempted to create reasonable doubt by arguing that no one had seen McVeigh near the scene of the crime, and that the investigation into the bombing had lasted only two weeks.[144] Jones presented 25 witnesses over a one-week period, including Dr. Frederic Whitehurst. Although Whitehurst described the FBI's sloppy investigation of the bombing site and its handling of other key evidence, he was unable to point to any direct evidence that he knew to be contaminated.[144]

A key point of contention in the case was the unmatched left leg found after the bombing. Although it was initially believed to be from a male, it was later determined to be that of Lakesha Levy, a female member of the Air Force who was killed in the bombing.[148] Levy's coffin had to be re-opened so that her leg could replace another unmatched leg that had previously been buried with her remains. The unmatched leg had been embalmed, which prevented authorities from being able to extract DNA to determine the leg's owner.[149] Jones argued that the leg could have belonged to another bomber, possibly John Doe #2.[2] The prosecution disputed the claim, saying that the leg could have belonged to any one of eight victims who had been buried without a left leg.[150]

Numerous damaging leaks emerged, which appeared to originate from conversations between McVeigh and his defense attorneys. They included a confession said to have been inadvertently included on a computer disk that was given to the press, which McVeigh believed seriously compromised his chances of getting a fair trial.[144] A gag order was imposed during the trial, prohibiting attorneys on either side from commenting to the press on the evidence, proceedings, or opinions regarding the trial proceedings. The defense was allowed to enter into evidence six pages of a 517-page Justice Department report criticizing the FBI crime laboratory and David Williams, one of the agency's explosives experts, for reaching unscientific and biased conclusions. The report claimed that Williams had worked backward in the investigation rather than basing his determinations on forensic evidence.[151]

The jury deliberated for 23 hours. On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on eleven counts of murder and conspiracy.[152][153] Although the defense argued for a reduced sentence of life imprisonment, McVeigh was sentenced to death.[154] In May 2001, the FBI announced that it had withheld over 3,000 documents from McVeigh's defense counsel.[155] The execution was postponed for one month for the defense to review the documents. On June 6, federal judge Richard Paul Matsch ruled the documents would not prove McVeigh innocent and ordered the execution to proceed.[156] After President George W. Bush approved the execution (McVeigh was a federal inmate and federal law dictates that the President must approve the execution of federal prisoners), he was executed by lethal injection at a U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11.[157][158] The execution was transmitted on closed-circuit television so that the relatives of the victims could witness his death.[159] McVeigh's execution was the first federal execution in 38 years.[160]

Terry Nichols

Main article: Terry Nichols

Nichols stood trial twice. He was first tried by the federal government in 1997 and found guilty of conspiring to build a weapon of mass destruction and of eight counts of involuntary manslaughter of federal officers.[161] After he was sentenced on June 4, 1998 to life without parole, the State of Oklahoma in 2000 sought a death-penalty conviction on 161 counts of first-degree murder (160 non-federal agent victims and one fetus).[162] On May 26, 2004 the jury found him guilty on all charges, but deadlocked on the issue of sentencing him to death. Presiding Judge Steven W. Taylor then determined the sentence of 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.[163] In March 2005, FBI investigators, acting on a tip, searched a buried crawl space in Nichols' former house and found additional explosives missed in the preliminary search after Nichols was arrested.[164] As of 2009 Nichols is being held in the ADX Florence Federal Prison.[165]

Michael Fortier

Main article: Michael and Lori Fortier

Michael and Lori Fortier were considered accomplices for their foreknowledge of the planning of the bombing. In addition to Michael assisting McVeigh in scouting the federal building, Lori had helped McVeigh laminate a fake driver's license (which was later used to rent the Ryder truck).[1] Michael agreed to testify against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for a modest sentence and immunity for his wife.[166] He was sentenced on May 27, 1998 to twelve years in prison and fined $75,000 for failing to warn authorities about the attack.[167] On January 20, 2006, after serving ten and a half years of his sentence, Fortier was released for good behavior into the Witness Protection Program and given a new identity.[168]



Building security and construction

The site of the building after it was imploded, three months after the bombing

In the weeks following the bombing the federal government ordered that all federal buildings in all major cities be surrounded with prefabricated Jersey barriers to prevent similar attacks.[183] As part of a longer-term plan for United States federal building security most of those temporary barriers have since been replaced with permanent security barriers, which look more attractive and are driven deep into the ground for sturdiness.[184][185] Furthermore, all new federal buildings must now be constructed with truck-resistant barriers and with deep setbacks from surrounding streets to minimize their vulnerability to truck bombs.[186][187][188] FBI buildings, for instance, must be set back 100 feet (30 m) from traffic.[189] The total cost of improving security in federal buildings across the country in response to the bombing reached over $600 million.[190]

The Murrah Federal Building had been considered so safe that it only employed one security guard.[191] In June 1995, the GSA issued Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities, also known as The Marshals Report, the findings of which resulted in a thorough evaluation of security at all federal buildings and a system for classifying risks at over 1,300 federal facilities owned or leased by the federal government. Federal sites were divided into five security levels ranging from Level 1 (minimum security needs) to Level 5 (maximum).[192] The Alfred P. Murrah Building was deemed a Level 4 building.[193] Among the 52 security improvements were physical barriers, closed-circuit television monitoring, site planning and access, hardening of building exteriors to increase blast resistance, glazing systems to reduce flying glass shards and fatalities, and structural engineering design to prevent progressive collapse.[194][195]

The attack led to engineering improvements allowing buildings to better withstand tremendous forces, improvements which were incorporated into the design of Oklahoma City's new federal building. The National Geographic Channel documentary series Seconds From Disaster suggested that the Murrah Federal Building would probably have survived the blast had it been built according to California's earthquake design codes.[196]

Discussion of the nature of dissent

Even many who agreed with some of McVeigh's politics viewed his act as counterproductive, with much of the criticism focused on the deaths of innocent children; critics expressed chagrin that McVeigh had not assassinated specific government leaders. McVeigh had indeed contemplated the assassinations of Attorney General Janet Reno and others in preference to attacking a building,[22] and after the bombing he said that he sometimes wished he had carried out a series of assassinations instead.[197] Those who expressed sympathy for McVeigh typically described his deed as an act of war, as in the case of Gore Vidal's essay The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh.[198][199] Other journalists compared him to John Brown.[200]

McVeigh believed that the bomb attack had a positive impact on government policy. In evidence he cited the peaceful resolution of the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the government's $3.1 million settlement with Randy Weaver and his surviving children four months after the bombing, and April 2000 statements by Bill Clinton regretting his decision to storm the Branch Davidian compound. McVeigh stated, "Once you bloody the bully's nose, and he knows he's going to be punched again, he's not coming back around."[201]

Memorial observances

Oklahoma City National Memorial

Main article: Oklahoma City National Memorial

Panoramic view of the memorial, as seen from the base of the reflecting pool. From left to right are the memorial chairs, Gate of Time and Reflecting Pool, the Survivor Tree, and the Journal Record Building.

For two years after the bombing the only memorials to the victims were plush toys, crucifixes, letters, and other personal items left by thousands of people at a security fence surrounding the site of the building.[202][203] Many suggestions for suitable memorials were sent to Oklahoma City, but an official memorial planning committee was not set up until early 1996,[204] when the Murrah Federal Building Memorial Task Force, composed of 350 members, was set up to formulate plans for a memorial to commemorate the victims of the bombing.[130] On July 1, 1997 the winning design was chosen unanimously by a 15-member panel from 624 submissions.[205] The memorial was designed at a cost of $29 million, which was raised by public and private funds.[206][207] The memorial is part of the National Park Service and was designed by Oklahoma City architects Hans and Torrey Butzer and Sven Berg.[203] It was dedicated by President Clinton on April 19, 2000, exactly five years after the bombing.[205][208] Within the first year, it had 700,000 visitors.[203]

The museum includes a reflecting pool flanked by two large gates, one inscribed with the time 9:01, the other with 9:03, the pool representing the moment of the blast. On the south end of the memorial is a field of symbolic bronze and stone chairs—one for each person lost, arranged according to what floor of the building they were on. The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victims' families. The seats of the children killed are smaller than those of the adults lost. On the opposite side is the "survivor tree", part of the building's original landscaping that survived the blast and fires that followed it. The memorial left part of the foundation of the building intact, allowing visitors to see the scale of the destruction. Part of the chain link fence put in place around the site of the blast, which had attracted over 800,000 personal items of commemoration later collected by the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation, is now on the western edge of the memorial.[209] North of the memorial is the Journal Record Building, which now houses the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, an affiliate of the National Park Service. The building also contains the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, a non-partisan think tank.

St. Joseph's Old Cathedral

On a corner adjacent to the memorial is a sculpture titled "And Jesus Wept", erected by St. Joseph's Old Cathedral. St. Joseph's, one of the first brick and mortar churches in the city, was almost completely destroyed by the blast.[210][211] The statue is not part of the memorial itself.[212]

Remembrance observance

An observance is held each year to remember the victims of the bombing. An annual marathon draws thousands, and allows runners to sponsor a victim of the bombing.[213][214] For the tenth anniversary of the bombing, the city held 24 days of activities, including a week-long series of events known as the National Week of Hope from April 17 to April 24, 2005.[215][216] As in previous years, the tenth anniversary of the bombing observances began with a service at 09:02 a.m. CST, marking the moment the bomb went off, with the traditional 168 seconds of silence—one second for each person who was killed as a result of the blast. The service also included the traditional reading of the names, read by children to symbolize the future of Oklahoma City.[217]

Vice President Dick Cheney, former president Clinton, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma at the time of the bombing, and other political dignitaries attended the service and gave speeches in which they emphasized that "goodness overcame evil".[218] The relatives of the victims and the survivors of the blast also made note of it during the service at First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.[219]

President George W. Bush made note of the anniversary in a written statement, part of which echoes his remarks on the execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001: "For the survivors of the crime and for the families of the dead the pain goes on."[220] Bush was invited but did not attend the service because he was en route to Springfield, Illinois to dedicate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Vice President Cheney presided over the service in his place.[218]

Conspiracy theories

Main article: Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy theories

A variety of conspiracy theories have been proposed about the events surrounding the bombing. Critics allege that individuals in the government, including President Bill Clinton,[221][222] knew of the impending bombing and intentionally failed to act on that knowledge. Additional theories focus on the possibility of additional explosives within the building and additional conspirators involved with the bombing.[223] It is also believed that the bombing was done by the government to frame the militia movement or enact antiterrorism legislation while using McVeigh as a scapegoat.[221][222][224][225] Experts have disputed the theories and government investigations have been opened at various times to look into the theories.[224][226][227]

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