April 19, 1995 marks the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history. It was on that morning that an ex-Army soldier named Timothy McVeigh detonated a powerful bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The building housed many regional offices of federal agencies including the Social Security Administration, US Department of Housing and Urban Development, US Secret Service (USSS), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). The bomb left 168 people dead, including 19 children who were in the building’s daycare center. Hundreds more people were injured.
The FBI quickly responded. Investigators combed through piles of twisted metal and concrete for clues. Just a day after the blast, they located the rear axle of a Ryder truck used by McVeigh in the attack. They traced the vehicle identification number (VIN) to a body shop in Kansas. Employees there were able to give investigators a description of the man who’d rented the van. After distributing a composite sketch around town, employees at a local hotel named Timothy McVeigh.
McVeigh meantime was already in jail. He was arrested just 90 minutes after the bombing when Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger pulled him over because the getaway car he was driving was missing a license plate. Trooper Hanger found a concealed weapon inside the vehicle and arrested McVeigh.
FBI agents found traces of the chemicals used in the bombing on McVeigh’s clothes. They also found an incriminating note McVeigh had written to remind himself to purchase more explosives. They also learned that two other men, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, were aware of McVeigh’s bomb plot. Terry Nichols helped McVeigh build the bomb. Fortier testified that he received stolen weapons which he sold to help fund the bombing. He also accompanied McVeigh to the Murrah federal building four months before the bombing to case the building.
The FBI says the bombing investigation turned out to be one of the most exhaustive in its history. By the time agents had completed their investigation, they had interviewed more than 28,000 people, followed up on more than 43,000 leads and reviewed close to one billion pieces of information. The evidence they gathered weighed 3 and a half tons.
McVeigh’s motive for the bombing was that he hoped to inspire a revolt against the federal government. He said he was angry at the federal government over the 1993 Waco siege which resulted in the deaths of 86 people, U.S. foreign policy and the Ruby Ridge incident. The latter was an 11-day siege in Idaho where a shootout between six U.S. Marshals and the family of a man named Randy Weaver resulted in the deaths of Weaver’s wife , 14 year old son and the family’s dog. Deputy U.S. Marshal W.F. Deagan was also killed. McVeigh was found guilty of multiple offenses, including using a weapon of mass destruction. He was executed by lethal injection in 2001 at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.
His co-conspirators were also convicted. Terry Nichols was sentenced to 8 life terms for the deaths of federal agents in the blast and to 161 life terms without parole for the deaths of other victims. Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison.