OKC Bombing – 20 Years Ago
On April 19, 1995, a truck-bomb explosion outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, left 168 people dead and hundreds more injured. The blast was set off by anti-government militant Timothy McVeigh, who in 2001 was executed for his crimes. His co-conspirator Terry Nichols received life in prison. Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack to take place on U.S. soil.
At 9:02 a.m., a rental truck packed with explosives detonated in front of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The powerful explosion blew off the building’s north wall. Emergency crews raced to Oklahoma from across the country, and when the rescue effort finally ended two weeks later the death toll stood at 168 people, including 19 young children who were in the building’s day care center at the time of the blast. More than 650 other people were injured in the bombing, which damaged or destroyed more than 300 buildings in the immediate area.
A massive hunt for the bombing suspects ensued, and on April 21 an eyewitness description led authorities to charge Timothy McVeigh (1968-2001), a former U.S. Army soldier, in the case. As it turned out, McVeigh was already in jail, having been stopped a little more than an hour after the bombing for a traffic violation and then arrested for unlawfully carrying a handgun. Shortly before he was scheduled to be released from jail, he was identified as a prime suspect in the bombing and charged. That same day, Terry Nichols (1955-), an associate of McVeigh’s, surrendered in Herington, Kansas. Both men were found to be members of a radical right-wing survivalist group based in Michigan.
On August 8, Michael Fortier, who knew of McVeigh’s plan to bomb the federal building, agreed to testify against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for a reduced sentence. Two days later, McVeigh and Nichols were indicted on charges of murder and unlawful use of explosives.
Oklahoma City Bombing: McVeigh and Nichols Sentenced
On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was convicted on all 11 counts against him, and on August 14 the death penalty was formally imposed. The following year, Fortier, who had met McVeigh in the Army, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to warn authorities about the Oklahoma City bombing plan. Fortier was released from prison in 2007 and entered the witness protection program.
In December 1997, Nichols was found guilty on one count of conspiracy and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, for killing federal law enforcement personnel, and was sentenced to life in prison. In 2004, he was tried on state charges in Oklahoma and convicted of 161counts of first-degree murder, including fetal homicide. He received 161 consecutive life terms in prison.
In December 2000, McVeigh asked a federal judge to stop all appeals of his convictions and to set a date for his execution. The request was granted, and on June 11, 2001, McVeigh, 33, died by lethal injection at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was the first federal prisoner to be put to death since 1963.
In May 1995, the Murrah Building was demolished for safety reasons, and a national memorial and museum later opened at the site.
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