On April 19, 1995, at 9:02 am, a truck bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, ultimately killing 168 people (19 of which were children attending a daycare) and injuring over 400. We didn’t know who did it. At first, we didn’t even know there was a who; we all hoped and prayed it was just a gas line that exploded. Nobody wants to think that people can do these sorts of things on purpose. When it became clear that somebody did, in fact, set off a bomb, there was a lot of finger-pointing at Muslim-Americans and immigrants. Ultimately, it turned out that a group of white men from such exotic locales as Arizona, Kansas, and New York were resonsible.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had been planning the bombing for quite some time. The indictment against them charges that they started taking action on this plan in September of 1994. They stole and sold firearms in order to purchase the bomb-making materials. They rented multiple storage units for the purpose of concealing stolen goods and said bombing materials. They stole explosives that they couldn’t afford. They discussed and planned and fine-tuned, and on April 18, they constructed the bomb in the back of a 20-foot Ryder truck in Kansas. McVeigh drove the truck to Oklahoma City alone and set off the bomb himself.

They had help from a man named Michael Fortier, a former army buddy of McVeigh’s who helped to transport, conceal, and sell the stolen firearms. The indictment against him also charges that he knew full well what McVeigh and Nichols were planning and did nothing to warn anyone about it.

On the day of the bombing, McVeigh was arrested by police on I-35 in Perry, Oklahoma for driving a car without tags. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that police figured out exactly who they had in custody. Nichols eventually turned himself in to authorities in Kansas. On August 10, 1995, McVeigh and Nichols were charged with: Conspiracy to Use a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; Destruction by Explosive; and eight counts of First Degree Murder for the deaths of eight law enforcement officials.

McVeigh was tried in the U.S. District Court in Denver. On June 2, 1997, he was convicted and later sentenced to death. After the Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal, he asked the District Judge to halt the appeals process. His execution date was originally set for May 16, 2001, but was pushed back to June 11 of the same year because the FBI had failed to disclose some materials to McVeigh’s attorney. On June 11, 2001, Timothy McVeigh was given the death penalty by lethal injection in federal prison in Indiana.

Nichols was tried separately and convicted on December 23, 1997. He received a prison sentence, escaping the death penalty because the jury deadlocked.

Fortier made a handwritten confession and was given prison sentence for not reporting McVeigh’s plans to authorities.

On May 23, 1995, at 7:01 am, a demolition company imploded the remains of the Federal Building. The last three bodies were pulled from the rubble six days later. After the debris was cleared away, a fence was erected around the site, and it sat empty for a while. People flocked from all over to visit the site, leaving signs and cards and teddy bears and flowers in memory of those who died. It was eventually decided to erect a memorial on the site where the building once stood. Today, the Oklahoma City National Memorial is a hauntingly beautiful place. You enter through a door labeled "9:01 am" and leave through one labeled "9:03 am". In between these doors, the memory of what took place there is preserved. One-hundred and sixty-eight empty chairs, each with the name of a victim, stand silently in rows. There is a museum nearby, with the photographs and stories of destruction, death, gallantry, heroism, and heartbreak. The Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism is also supposed to be a part of the memorial, but I haven’t heard much about it.

Links:
www.kwtv.com/news/bombing/fortier.htm - Indictment Against Michael J. Fortier
www.kwtv.com/news/bombing/mcveigh.htm - Indictment Against McVeigh & Nichols
www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org

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