"All governments are run by liars and nothing they say
should be believed."
The images are forever etched in our minds. Scorched, burning cars, pouring black smoke and charred, twisted metal. Piles of rubble, screaming sirens and battered, bloody bodies. And the babies. Frail, lifeless figures tiny, silent witnesses of death and destruction.
In the early morning hours of April 19th, the Oklahoma City federal building had, in one long, horrible moment exploded with the force of a volcano, spewing forth the contents of its human carnage onto the streets below. What had a few moments ago been the Alfred P. Murrah building was now a huge, gaping tomb. The entire façade of the nine-story superstructure had been ripped away, exposing its innards dangling chunks of concrete, tangled strands of cables and bent pieces of rebar into the choking, blackened sky. Now it stood smoking and eerily silent, except for the muffled cries of its few remaining inhabitants and the wailing of the sirens off in the distance.
One man, an ex-Marine, likened it to carnage he had witnessed in war-torn Lebanon. Another veteran, Thu Nguyen, who had his five-year-old son Christopher in the day care center, said, "I've seen war . I've seen soldiers I fought with in Vietnam cut this way, cut in half, heads cut off. That was war. These are children. This is not a war. This is a crime."
The scene was surreal almost too horrific to bear. There were bodies and pieces of bodies strewn about, along with childrens' toys and workers' personal effects tragic reminders of what had moments before been the meaningful mementos of someone's life. One passerby had been wrapped around a telephone pole, her head blown off. Workers who had been sitting at their desks were still sitting there lifeless, morbid, like eerie figures out of a wax museum of horrors.
Police detective Jay Einhorn remembers one scene: "There was a guy a black guy on the second floor, just sitting there. I knew he was dead. He's looking at me, and I'm looking at him if you don't think that's fucking scary. We just said, man we gotta go up there and cover that guy up."
Daina Bradley, who was trapped under a slab of fallen concrete, was still conscious. With no way to remove her without upsetting the huge piece of concrete, doctors were forced to amputate her leg. As Bradley lay screaming in a pool of water, surgeons, using scalpels and saws, and without anesthesia, amputated her leg below the knee.
The federal office building, home to over 550 workers, had also housed a day care center. Nearby, a makeshift morgue had been set up in what had once been the childrens' playground. Refrigeration trucks lined up to haul away the dead bodies. "Sheriff Clint Boehler, from nearby Canadian County, recalls, "We went flying down there at about 110 miles an hour you never saw so many services running over each other." As hundreds of volunteers poured in from all over the country, fireman, police and medical personnel began laying out the victims for identification. Shirley Moser, a nurse, began tagging dead children. "Their faces had been blown off, "said Moser. "They found a child without a head."
Those who were lucky enough to escape the carnage were wandering about, dazed and confused. One man, his face bloodied, wandered down the street, saying he was headed home, except that he couldn't remember his name or where his home was. Another man who was entering the building had his arm blown off, but was in such a state of shock that he didn't notice it as he went about trying to help others.
People who lived or worked nearby had been blown out of their chairs. Trent Smith, 240 pounds, was tossed seven feet into the air and through the window of his hotel room. Several blocks away, a bus filled with people was nearly blown on its side. The force of the blast extended for nearly 30 blocks, blowing out windows and heavily damaging a dozen buildings, and causing damage to almost 400 more.
When it was all over, more than 169 people, including 19 children, lay dead, and more than 500 were injured. The damage was estimated in the hundreds of millions.
Federal authorities were calling the bombing the single largest terrorist attack in the history of the United States. Yet it was difficult to discern whether the bombing was some ominous precursor to some as yet undeclared war, or the result of some criminal plot gone horribly awry. Just who had caused it wasn't clear.
As rescue workers continued the difficult task of searching for bodies, and hospital workers began attending to victims, law enforcement agents began searching for clues. What was clear as law enforcement personnel descended upon the scene, was that the blast had left a 30 foot wide, 8 feet deep crater in front of the building. Fortunately, a ATF agent who had recently attended a course on the identification of car and truck-bombs just happened to be in the federal courthouse. The agent was able to identify the cause of the blast immediately. He telephoned his superiors in Dallas and told them that an ammonium nitrate truck-bomb had just blown up the Murrah Building.
Sixty miles away, near Perry Oklahoma, Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger was making his usual rounds. Around 10:30 a.m. Officer Hanger noticed a battered 1977 yellow Mercury, without a license plate, speeding along at 81 miles an hour. Pulling the vehicle over, Hanger cited the driver, 26-year-old Timothy James McVeigh, for driving without a license plate. As he was about to let McVeigh go, Hanger noticed a distinct bulge under McVeigh's windbreaker. When he asked McVeigh what he had under his jacket, McVeigh casually informed the cop that he had a gun a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol. Hanger subsequently arrested McVeigh for carrying a concealed weapon, driving without a tags, and driving without insurance.
Back in Oklahoma City, investigators were busily searching the wreckage for clues that could lead them to the perpetrators. It didn't take long for investigators to find what they were looking for a piece of axle and a license plate believed to have been part of the truck used in the bombing. After FBI agents ran the VIN (vehicle identification number) and the plate through their Rapid Start computer system, they discovered the vehicle belonged to a Ryder rental agency in Florida. A check with the agency revealed that the truck, a 1993 Ford, was rented out of Elliott's Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas. Elliott's said that they had rented the 20-foot truck to a Bob Kling on April 17th, and gave the FBI artist a description of two men who had rented the truck, known as Unsub #1 and Unsub #2.
Kling, Unsub #1, had listed his address as 3616 North Van Dyke Road in Decker, Michigan. The address was the home of James Douglas Nichols and Terry Lynn Nichols. A quick check of that address with the Michigan Department of Motor Vehicles revealed a license in the name of Timothy James McVeigh.
FBI agents interviewing James Nichols and relatives in Decker quickly learned that Timothy McVeigh was a friend of Nichols, who possessed large quantities of fuel oil and fertilizer. Armed with a search warrant, agents found 28 50-pound bags of fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate, a 55 gallon drum containing fuel oil, blasting caps, and safety fuse.
Interviews with neighbors[, including Daniel Stomber, Paul Isydorak and others,] revealed that the Nichols brothers and McVeigh had experimented with explosives, using household items to produce small bombs using bottles and cardboard cartons, which they would detonate on their property for fun. Witnesses also claimed that in December of 1993, McVeigh and one of the Nichols brothers had visited Thumb Hobbies, Etc. to inquire about purchasing 100% liquid nitro model airplane fuel. One of these witnesses had reported that James Nichols had repeatedly blamed the U.S. government for all the problems in the world.
Federal agents then decided they had enough evidence to arrest James Nichols, and to put out a warrant on his brother Terry, who was living in Herrington, Kansas. On April 22, Terry Nichols, wondering why his name was being broadcast on television, walked into the local police station in Herrington.
In the meantime, witnesses at the scene of the bombing had given FBI agents a description of possible suspects. While interviewing people in Junction City, agents spoke to the manager of the Dreamland Motel who recognized the composite sketch of the suspect the FBI called Unsub #1. The man had registered at the Dreamland from April 14 to April 18 under the name of Tim McVeigh, had driven a yellow Mercury, and provided an address on North Van Dyke Road in Decker, Michigan.
On April 21, Carl E. Lebron, a former co-worker of McVeigh's, recognized the composite sketch of Unsub #1 on TV and called the FBI. He said that the man was named Timothy McVeigh, and that he was possessed of extreme right-wing views, was a military veteran, and was particularly agitated over the deaths of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in April, 1993. The man told the FBI that McVeigh expressed extreme anger towards the Federal Government. The man gave the FBI the last known address he had for McVeigh: 1711 Stockton Hill Road, #206, Kingman, Arizona.
Back in Perry, Oklahoma, McVeigh was still sitting in a cell at the Noble County Courthouse, waiting for his arraignment. After feeding McVeigh's name into the National Crime Information Center, the FBI discovered their suspect sitting quietly in the Noble County jail on a traffic and weapons charge. Just as McVeigh was about to be set free, District Attorney John Maddox received a call from the FBI telling him to hold on to the prisoner, that he was a prime suspect in the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
So, by good luck, diligent work, and an amazing series of coincidences, federal law enforcement authorities solved the most heinous crime in the history of the United States all within 48 hours.
Or did they?
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