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Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing

Oklahoma City Federal Building Bombing

On the morning of April 19, 1995, a truck bomb destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma . The nine-story building housed fifteen federal agencies, including offices of the Social Security Administration, Housing and Urban Development, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as well as several defense department offices and a government-run day care center.

The bomb detonated at 9:02 am, leaving a crater (a bowl-shaped hole) eight feet deep and thirty feet wide and ripping away the front half of the building. All floors fell to ground level, trapping many victims in the rubble. Windows shattered blocks away and other buildings in the area were badly damaged. The nearby YMCA day care center was also destroyed, leaving many children inside seriously injured.

Rescue efforts began immediately, and more than 3,600 people participated, including police, firefighters, and members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Quickly assembled medical teams provided first aid, surgery, and counseling. Architects and engineers were brought in to evaluate the stability of the remains of the building and to shore up parts of it with beams. The Oklahoma National Guard worked with police to keep spectators at a distance, and over 1,400 American Red Cross volunteers provided aid to families and meals to rescue workers. Rescuers used cranes, hydraulic lifts, and trained dogs to find victims. The nation watched the tragedy unfolding on the television news. One photograph in particular brought home the horror of the bombing—a photo of a firefighter carrying the bloody body of one-year-old Baylee Almon, who died in the blast. When the damage in human lives was later assessed, 168 people—19 of them children—were reported killed and another 800 injured.

The terrorists

The press and public were quick to suspect foreign terrorist organizations of the bombing. Rumors of Arab terrorists circulated. But it was not long before the prime suspects were known, and they were American citizens. Timothy McVeigh (1968–2001), a drifter and former soldier who grew up in a suburb of Buffalo, New York , and his former army buddy Terry Lynn Nichols (1955–) of Michigan , were both charged with murder and conspiracy. Co-conspirators and friends of McVeigh, Michael and Lori Fortier of Kingman, Arizona , struck deals with prosecutors to become government witnesses against him.

McVeigh and Nichols had met in the army. McVeigh had earned distinction during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. After his discharge, he developed extremist beliefs that were heavily informed by his reading of the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries by Andrew MacDonald, the pseudonym

of William Luther Pierce III (1933–2002), a leader of a neo-Nazi group promoting racism, anti-Semitism, and antigovernment extremism. In the novel, a truck bomb blows up a federal building in circumstances almost identical to those of the Murrah Building bombing.

McVeigh's violence was also motivated by his outrage at the government siege and eventual fire at the Waco, Texas , compound belonging to the Branch Davidian religious cult on April 19, 1993, in which eighty-two Branch Davidian members were killed. (See Domestic Terrorism ). He may have chosen to bomb the Murrah Building because he thought (incorrectly) that the personnel involved at Waco worked in that building. Since the destruction of the Waco compound and the Murrah Federal Building both occurred on April 19th, it is likely that his attack was intended as retaliation for the Waco incident.

The aftermath

About six weeks after the bombing, the remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building were razed. The site was grassed over to remove the most visible scar of the deadly incident, and the fence surrounding the area became a gathering point for victims and sympathizers. On the fifth anniversary of the bombing, April 19, 2000, a three-acre memorial opened on the site. Visitors to the memorial enter through a gate, where a clock is set forever at 9:01 am—one minute before the bombing. Inside are 168 empty chairs set up for each one of the people who lost their lives in the bombing. North of the chairs, the Survivor Tree, an elm tree that made it through the blast, is dedicated to the survivors.

On December 23, 1997, a federal jury in Denver, Colorado , convicted Nichols of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter for his role in the 1995 bombing, and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. In the first federal execution in thirty-eight years, McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. He never showed any remorse for his acts.

The Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks .

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