On This Day

Oklahoma City bombing
Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen
The Murrah Federal Building pictured two
days after it was bombed.

On This Day: Timothy McVeigh Commits Oklahoma City Bombing

April 19, 2012 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and injuring 500.

The Oklahoma City Bombing

The Oklahoma City attack was carried out by Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran, survivalist and supporter of right-wing militia groups, McVeigh held a deep distrust of the United States government and was angered over the federal government’s raid against the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

McVeigh began planning for an attack against the federal government in 1993. He chose the Oklahoma City Federal Building as his target because it was home to multiple federal agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which was involved in Waco.

McVeigh was aided by Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, two men who he had met in the Army and shared similar political views. Nichols helped McVeigh gather the materials for the bomb and Fortier helped him survey the Federal building. He may also have received support and advice from other anti-government activists, but only McVeigh, Nichols and Fortier would ever be charged.

McVeigh decided to commit his attack on April 19, the second anniversary of the Waco raid. That morning, he parked a rented van containing a large fertilizer bomb outside the Federal Building, and drove away in a second car. The bomb went off at 9:02 a.m.

“Within moments,” writes the FBI, “the surrounding area looked like a war zone. A third of the building had been reduced to rubble, with many floors flattened like pancakes. Dozens of cars were incinerated and more than 300 nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed.”

The Washington Post described, “The building itself was so damaged that simply searching for survivors became a long, perilous task that stretched throughout the day and into the night. The entire front portion appeared to be excavated, as if it had been hit with a wrecking ball many times—cables stringing down over the sides, steel reinforcements visible, portions of offices still recognizable. Debris from the blast formed a pile two stories high in front of the building, cascading all the way across the street and into a parking lot. The explosion itself blasted a crater eight feet deep and 20 feet in diameter that was filled with rubble.”

The bombing killed 168 people, including 19 children who were in the building’s second-floor daycare center. More than 500 others were injured. It was the terrorist deadliest act on American soil until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Investigation and Trial

McVeigh was arrested just an hour and a half after the explosion when he was pulled over for driving without a license plate and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. Authorities found evidence linking McVeigh and Nichols to the bombing, and McVeigh admitted to his attorneys that he carried out the attack.

McVeigh was put on trial in 1997. He had hoped to present a “necessity defense” in which he would argue that the bombing was necessary to prevent the crimes of the federal government, but his defense lawyers instead focused on raising doubt of his guilt.

A jury found McVeigh guilty of murder and conspiracy; he was sentenced to death and executed in 2001. In separate trials, Nichols was given a life sentence and Fortier, who testified against McVeigh, was given 12 years.

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