In memoriam: On this day in 1995, a tragedy by terror in Oklahoma City shook the world, changing lives forever

By Joshua Allen
ONL Staff Reporter

It was 24 years ago today, April 19, 1995, that individuals, acting in heinous illogic, carried out the most destructive and deadly domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history, bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

A wall of the Oklahoma City National Memorial on the site of where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building once stood before the tragic 1995 bombing that shook the nation and the world. (ONL Photo)

Almost 700 people were inside the structure when the explosives ignited that morning right around 9 a.m. The death toll, according to the Injury Prevention Service of the Oklahoma Department of Health, was 167 lives lost as a direct result of the bombing, though many sources cite 168.

At that time, prior to the atrocious 9/11 attack, the bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, still remaining the worst incident of domestic terrorism perpetrated on the soil of this country.

Injuring also about 680 people (ibid.), including many children, the blast destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings within a 16-block radius.

Though the attack is said to have been carried out by two men, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the latter received only life in prison for his involvement, whereas McVeigh was convicted, sentenced to death in 1997 and executed in June 2001.

Twisted and wrought with rationale of little reason, McVeigh cited his anger at the federal government for the way the 51-day Waco standoff between federal agents and David Koresh and Branch Davidian members was handled as motive for the unthinkable bombing, including also his disdain for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s standoff with Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, which remains a stain on federal law enforcement to this day, likely recognized by agents today as a misfortunate mistake.

The Branch Davidian complex was raided when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms attempted to search the premises of the large complex in Texas, which ended in the burning of the complete burning of the complex and a gunfight that lasted over a month and led to the deaths of Koresh and 75 others, according to The Sunday Times of London.

McVeigh visited Waco during the standoff and after, according to a Daily News article. The Associated Press cited this as motive, saying he “later decided to bomb a federal building as a response to the raids.”

As for him, McVeigh seemed to think it was reason enough to destroy the lives of so many. A Scientific American article, published in 2001 and titled “American Terrorist,” attributed the following quote as a reflection of McVeigh’s over the innocent victims lost and injured in the bombing:

“Think about the people as if they were storm troopers in Star Wars. They may be individually innocent, but they are guilty because they work for the Evil Empire.”

The preparation for the attack began the year before, in the summer of 1994. Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was used in combination with over 1,000 pounds of liquid nitromethane and 350 pounds of Torvex, put into a Ryder truck and drove to the Alfred P. Murrah building on the morning of April 19, 1995.

Police sketch drawings of Timothy McVeigh (left) and Terry Nichols at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. (ONL Photo)

In a Time Magazine article titled “Oklahoma: The Weight of the Evidence,” McVeigh is said to have had with him an envelope with pages inside from a 1974 publication called The Turner Diaries. The 1978 novel tells a fictional story of a group of white supremacists igniting a revolution by blowing up the FBI’s headquarters in Virginia just after 9 a.m. one morning by the use of a truck bomb. The oddity of its similarity to the actual OKC Bombing is almost uncanny, which exploded at 9:02 a.m., according to local sources at that time.

The planning of the attack and bombing may have been well-thought-out — at least, in the most disgusting and terrifying of ways — the getaway or escape plan lacked much, and within about an hour and a half of the explosion, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol officer pulled McVeigh over for driving without a license plate. He was arrested for illegal weapons possession, and soon thereafter forensic evidence connected he and Nichols to the attack, according to a report from U.S. News and World Report.

A message scrawled on a wall at the memorial where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed on this day in April 1995. (ONL Photo)

The linking of the two behind the bombing, according to an Associated Press article published by MSNBC, led to an investigation that included tens of thousands of interviews and the gathering of over three tons of evidence and nearly a billion pieces of various information.

McVeigh and Nichols were tried and convicted in 1997, but justice for those lost and injured had to be bittersweet as the two destroyed so many people’s lives, leading the U.S. Congress to pass the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, tightening habeas corpus in the United States, and legislation designed to deter other terrorist attacks of federal buildings.

On the bombing’s five-year anniversary in 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial (pictured) was dedicated on the site of the Murrah Federal Building — being a worthy but still somewhat futile effort in comparison to the loss to commemorate and memorialize the victims of the bombing.

Every year on this day, honorary memorial services are held around the time the bomb went off and the world was shaken.

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