Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

On the morning of April 19, 1995, an ex-Army soldier and security guard named Timothy McVeigh parked a rented Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. He was about to commit mass murder.

Inside the vehicle was a powerful bomb made out of a deadly cocktail of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals. McVeigh got out, locked the door, and headed towards his getaway car. He ignited one timed fuse, then another.

At precisely 9:02 a.m., the bomb exploded.

Within moments, 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 human toll was still more devastating: 168 souls lost, including 19 children, with several hundred more injured.

It was the worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.

Coming on the heels of the World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists. The FBI, meanwhile, quickly arrived at the scene and began supporting rescue efforts and investigating the facts. Beneath the pile of concrete and twisted steel were clues. And the FBI was determined to find them.

It didn’t take long. On April 20, the rear axle of the Ryder truck was located, which yielded a vehicle identification number that was traced to a body shop in Junction City, Kansas. Employees at the shop helped the FBI quickly put together a composite drawing of the man who had rented the van. Agents showed the drawing around town, and local hotel employees supplied a name: Tim McVeigh.

A quick call to the Bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in West Virginia on April 21 led to an astonishing discovery: McVeigh was already in jail. He’d been pulled over about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City by an observant Oklahoma State Trooper who noticed a missing license plate on his yellow Mercury Marquis. McVeigh had a concealed weapon and was arrested. It was just 90 minutes after the bombing.

From there, the evidence began adding up. Agents found traces of the chemicals used in the explosion on McVeigh’s clothes and a business card on which McVeigh had suspiciously scribbled, “TNT @ $5/stick, need more”. They learned about McVeigh’s extremist ideologies and his anger over the events at Waco two years earlier. They discovered that a friend of McVeigh’s named Terry Nichols helped build the bomb and that another man—Michael Fortier—was aware of the bomb plot.

The bombing was quickly solved, but the investigation turned out to be one of the most exhaustive in FBI history. No stone was left unturned to make sure every clue was found and all the culprits identified. By the time it was over, the Bureau had conducted more than 28,000 interviews, followed some 43,000 investigative leads, amassed three-and-a-half tons of evidence, and reviewed nearly a billion pieces of information.

In the end, the government that McVeigh hated and hoped to topple swiftly captured him and convincingly convicted both him and his co-conspirators. fbi.gov

The Slaughter of the Innocents : Victims: ‘We could hear children crying,’ a Red Cross worker says.


OKLAHOMA CITY —  There was a terrible roar. The walls fell, the ceiling gave way and shards of glass like so many bright razors filled the air.

And, suddenly, a modern drama called urban terrorism had been transformed into an ancient ceremony of horror–the slaughter of the innocents.

“As we helped people on the street,” said Red Cross worker Jennifer Harrison, “we could hear children crying, like blowing in the wind. It just feels like a dagger in your heart. You couldn’t see them. You just heard their voices.”

The car bomb that destroyed a nine-story federal office building here Wednesday exploded directly under a day-care center on the structure’s second floor and badly damaged another baby-sitting facility in a nearby YMCA. Of the approximately 40 children thought to have been in the building when the bomb went off, at least 12 are dead and about 26 were listed as missing late Wednesday night. The dead ranged in age from 1 to 7 years old. Some of them were burned beyond recognition. One of the children known to have survived was in surgery Wednesday evening and the other was in an intensive-care facility.

On the sidewalk outside the devastated Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at midday, a young mother, her head swathed in bandages, sat weeping. Her husband and two daughters, ages 3 and 4, were among the missing. Another woman who survived the blast stood outside the building, screaming for her child. Rescue workers led her away just before they brought out a dead boy they believed was her son.

Inside, rescuers tried to cover the bodies of the dead children with blankets, but the wind, pushing through the vacant spaces where walls and windows once had been, kept blowing them off.

In the parking garage beneath the damaged building, a temporary morgue had been set up, and emergency medical technicians waited there for more bodies to be pulled from the rubble. Earlier, some of them had searched for victims in the devastated day-care center at the building’s west end.

Asked what it was like, nurse Rena Keesling, 28, pointed to a pile of bricks on the street and said, “like that.”

Keesling said she “saw decapitated bodies. Children were just all over. Their school papers and toys were strewn on the floor. One doctor who was with us picked up a group picture of the children and burst into tears. She couldn’t take it.”

Another nurse, Christine Johns, said: “Babies were wrapped around poles. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Her colleague, Bobby Johnson, 42 years old and the father of a 20-day-old son, had seen it before, but Wednesday’s carnage still brought him to tears. “I was in Vietnam,” he said, “and I never thought I would see something like that again. But this is worse. It was awful. There was lots of blood and debris. Children’s bodies were mangled and decapitated.”

I was shocked to think that someone could do that to small children,” he said.

Johnson’s blue surgical outfit was stained with blood, and so were the purple vestments and latex gloves of Father George Miley, a Catholic priest hurrying down a nearby street. He had been in a neighboring church administering the last rites to victims of the blast, and was on his way from there to another temporary morgue.

“I came to minister to the dead and dying,” he said. “They were all children–six babies.”

Retired Oklahoma City police officer Kenneth (Sugar) Smith was in an office less than two blocks from the federal building when the concussion from the blast hit, sending everyone into the street.

“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “So, I pulled out my old badge and started directing traffic, helping to get people back away from the building.”

A distraught woman, spotting Smith’s badge, rushed up to him:

“My baby! My baby’s in the day-care center!” she said.

Ma’am. I can’t let you go in there,” Smith told her.

Then, sobbing words that Smith said will haunt him the rest of his life, she said: “Yesterday was her birthday.”

Rescue worker Karen Hardesty helped comb the wreckage with her dog, Lady, a hound specially trained to sniff out infants. Their scents, Hardesty explained, are different from those of adults.

“Lady is trained to find all humans, but looks harder and faster for babies,” she said.

Lady made one find–a dead baby.

“It will hit me later,” Hardesty said. “While I’m doing it, I don’t have a problem, but later I’ll get shaky and I’ll cry.”

Many children in the YMCA facility–some of them as young as 18 months–also were injured, at least five of them seriously.

“It was really terrible with the (YMCA) day-care center,” said Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin Cox, who happened to be nearby. “Babies were crying and screaming, with blood and plaster and insulation on their bodies.”

The Rev. George Young, chaplain at Oklahoma City’s St. Anthony Hospital, where many of the wounded were taken, sat on a bench holding a small girl with bandages on her face. “I’ve seen five or six children seriously injured,” he said. “The children were 18 months to 4 or 5 years of age. A lot of them had been hurt by flying glass. One little boy was in shock.”

At another medical facility, Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma, parents wearing a piece of masking tape inscribed with the last name of the child they hoped to find waited for any word.

Meanwhile, local television stations broadcast a description of an injured, red-haired toddler, asking her parents to contact officials because she needed surgery. It wasn’t clear which day-care center she had been taken from, or if her parents were among the victims.

Wanda McNeely searched frantically for her 6-month-old grandson’s name on the list of the injured at Children’s Hospital. After checking with three hospitals, McNeely decided to go to the morgue at St. Anthony.

We’re going to go and see if we can identify a body,” she said. “We’ve checked all the lists, now we’re going to the other side.”

Half a continent away, mothers and fathers with children in day-care centers scattered through government buildings across Southern California paused to stare anxiously toward the nation’s heartland, where every working parent’s worst nightmare had become real.

Security guards at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building on Temple Street in Downtown Los Angeles inspected the trunks of automobiles entering an underground parking garage next to the outdoor play yard for the Harry Pregerson Child Care Center.

Vanessa Vejar of El Sereno had come to get her 2 1/2-year-old niece, Robin. “It’s horrible,” she said of the bombing. “That’s a problem with child-care centers in a federal building. I came early to pick her up early and take her home.” But, she said, her family probably would keep Robin in the center, at least for now, because it is so hard to find suitable child care.

“I’ve been concerned ever since the World Trade Center bombing,” said John McPhaul, a Caltrans systems analyst whose 2-year-old daughter is enrolled at a day-care center at the Ronald Reagan State Building down the street from the Pregerson Center.

At Los Angeles City Hall, Assistant Child Development Center Director Jeanne Hartman said: “We do have some concerned parents” in the wake of the bombing news.

We’ve beefed up security. We have more visible foot patrols and more building checks,” she said. “The parents are a little more nervous. I’m a little more nervous too. We’re edgy today, for sure.”

In Laguna Niguel, panicked parents dropped everything and left work to pick up their children at the Ziggurat Child Development Center, a day-care facility located in the seven-story Chet Holifield Federal Building.

The center’s administrators were put on extra alert throughout the day and called all parents of the 178 children–including 16 infants–who attend the school to inform them about the Oklahoma City bombing. About 50% are children of federal employees who work in the building.

Parent Ann Williams, a kindergarten teacher at Wood Canyon Elementary School, left her campus as soon as she received a phone call about the tragedy.

“It scared the heck out of me,” she said as she walked out of the building with her 2-year-old son, Trevor, cradled in her arms. “I’m taking him back to my classroom.”

Outside, a steady stream of parents arrived to pick up their children.

Attorney Debby Howell of Laguna Niguel arrived about 1:30 p.m. to pick up her 8-month-old son, Peter. Both were going home for the day.

“I couldn’t work and think that he’s at risk because he’s in a federal building,” Howell said.

Minutes later another mother, Kim Cahill of San Clemente, arrived for her son, Ryan, also 8 months old.

I’m just playing it safe,” said Cahill, 36. “This is really just a precaution, but I’m taking off for the rest of the day.”

Hart reported from Oklahoma City and Pool from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Tim Rutten in Los Angeles, Len Hall in Laguna Niguel, William C. Rempel in Washington and Jesse Katz in Oklahoma City also contributed to this story.


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