The Oklahoma City Bombing

Who Was Behind the 1995 Tragedy?

Woman visiting Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial
Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial. J Pat Carter / Getty Images

At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, a 5,000-pound bomb, hidden inside a rented Ryder truck, exploded just outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The explosion caused massive damage to the building and killed 168 people, 19 of whom were children.

Those responsible for what became known as the Oklahoma City Bombing were home-grown terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. This deadly bombing was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack.

Why Did McVeigh Plant the Bomb?

On April 19, 1993, the standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidian cult (led by David Koresh) at the Davidian compound in Waco, Texas ended in a fiery tragedy. When the FBI tried to end the standoff by gassing the complex, the entire compound went up in fire, claiming the lives of 75 followers, including many young children.

The death toll was high and many people blamed the U.S. government for the tragedy. One such person was Timothy McVeigh.

McVeigh, angered by the Waco tragedy, decided to enact retribution to those he felt responsible—the federal government, especially the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). In downtown Oklahoma City, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building held numerous federal agency offices, including those of the ATF.

Preparing for the Attack

Planning his revenge for the second anniversary of the Waco disaster, McVeigh enlisted his friend Terry Nichols and several others to help him pull off his plan.

In September 1994, McVeigh purchased large amounts of fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) and then stored it in a rented shed in Herington, Kansas. The ammonium nitrate was the main ingredient for the bomb. McVeigh and Nichols stole other supplies needed to complete the bomb from a quarry in Marion, Kansas.

On April 17, 1995, McVeigh rented a Ryder truck and then McVeigh and Nichols loaded the Ryder truck with approximately 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

On the morning of April 19th, McVeigh drove the Ryder truck to the Murrah Federal Building, lit the bomb's fuse, parked in front of the building, left the keys inside the truck and locked the door, then walked across the parking lot to an alley. He then started to jog.

The Explosion at the Murrah Federal Building

On the morning of April 19, 1995, most employees of the Murrah Federal Building had already arrived at work and children had already been dropped off at the daycare center when the huge explosion tore through the building at 9:02 a.m. Nearly the entire north face of the nine-story building was pulverized into dust and rubble.

It took weeks of sorting through debris to find the victims. In all, 168 people were killed in the explosion, which included 19 children. One nurse was also killed during the rescue operation.

Capturing Those Responsible

Ninety minutes after the explosion, McVeigh was pulled over by a highway patrol officer for driving without a license plate. When the officer discovered that McVeigh had an unregistered gun, the officer arrested McVeigh on a firearms charge.

Before McVeigh was released, his ties to the explosion were discovered. Unfortunately for McVeigh, almost all his purchases and rental agreements related to the bombing could be traced back to him after the explosion.

On June 3, 1997, McVeigh was convicted of murder and conspiracy and on August 15, 1997, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh was executed.

Terry Nichols was brought in for questioning two days after the blast and then arrested for his role in McVeigh's plan. On December 24, 1997, a federal jury found Nichols guilty and on June 5, 1998, Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. In March 2004, Nichols went on trial for murder charges by the state of Oklahoma. He was found guilty of 161 counts of murder and sentenced to 161 consecutive life sentences.

A third accomplice, Michael Fortier, who testified against McVeigh and Nichols, received a 12-year prison sentence and was fined $200,000 on May 27, 1998, for knowing about the plan but not informing authorities before the explosion.

A Memorial

What little remained of the Murrah Federal Building was demolished on May 23, 1995. In 2000, a memorial was built on the location to remember the tragedy of the Oklahoma City Bombing.