Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Bad Day Dawning

Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh (AP)

That we can learn a lot about a man from the books and films he chooses is borne out by Timothy McVeigh.

One of his favorite films: the 1984 Patrick Swayze epic Red Dawn. It follows a group of small town teens' conversion to guerilla fighters when a foreign army invades America.

Like McVeigh, the teens stock up on survival gear — mainly guns and ammo — in order to defend their country from annihilation.

And one of McVeigh's favorite books: The Turner Diaries written by former American Nazi Party honcho William L. Pierce, under the pen name Andrew Macdonald. Its hero — Earl Turner — responds to gun control by making a truck bomb and blowing up the Washington FBI Building.

Two scenarios — all too familiar.


The Ryder rental truck before the Oklahoma City bombing
The Ryder rental truck before the
Oklahoma City bombing (AP)

It was April 19, 1995, a perfect, sun-drenched Oklahoma morning in springtime. Against a perfect blue-sky background, a yellow Ryder Rental truck carefully made its way through the streets of downtown Oklahoma City.

Just after 9 am, the vehicle pulled into a parking area outside the Alfred P. Murrah Building and the driver stepped down from the truck's cab and casually walked away. A few minutes later, at 9:02, all hell broke loose as the truck's deadly 4,000-pound cargo blasted the government building with enough force to shatter one third of the seven-story structure to bits.

Glass, concrete, and steel rained down. Indiscriminately mixed in the smoldering rubble were adults and children — alive and dead.

The perpetrator, 27-year-old Timothy James McVeigh, by now safely away from the devastation was convinced he acted to defend the Constitution, for he saw himself as crusader, warrior avenger — and hero.

But in reality, he was little more than a misguided coward. He never even heard clearly the sound of the initial sirens of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. Because, blocks away, he was wearing earplugs to protect himself from the roar of a blast so powerful it lifted pedestrians off the ground.

One Japanese tourist — no stranger to powerful earthquakes — called the blast "...worse than the worst quake. Because there was no initial warning, no noise to say 'something terrible is going to happen'; it just hit."

When it did, a massive ball of fire momentarily outshone the sun and the north side of the building disintegrated. Traffic signs and parking meters were ripped from the pavement. Glass shattered and flew like bullets, targeting — and maiming — pedestrians blocks away.

The Alfred P. Murrah building after the blast
The Alfred P. Murrah building after the
blast (AP)

Inside the broken building, survival depended on location at zero hour.

Some of the lucky ones had left their usual posts to get a coffee, deliver documents or simply visit nearby offices. As they did, their offices and fellow workers were blown away.

In the children's day-care center directly above the mobile bomb, devastation was horrific. Upper floors collapsed on those beneath them, setting up a chain reaction that crushed everything and everyone below.

Rescue workers rushed to the scene almost immediately. Professionals and volunteers alike clawed through the rubble to help dig out the wounded and remove the dead. Temporary silences were observed so listening devices that can detect even human heartbeats were employed to locate anyone still living. 

In one instance, sounding devices finally located a buried woman, Dana Bradley, as she cried for help. The 20-year-old lay bleeding in a foot of water. For five hours, her leg had been pinned under a pile of cement.

The massive pile of rubble trapping her could not be shifted, so the rescue team's only hope of getting her out alive was to amputate her crushed limb. She pleaded with them to try another way, but to delay posed a double threat. She could bleed to death, or the building could collapse on Dana and the rescue team — the rescuers had been driven out once before when the building had begun to shake.

On returning, volunteer Dr. Gary Massad faced one of the hardest decisions of his career. Because anesthetic could trigger a fatal coma, the operation would have to be done while the patient was fully conscious.

Oklahoma City bombing victim Dana Bradley
Oklahoma City bombing
victim Dana Bradley (AP)

There was no other way. Once the operation was done, she was finally dragged from the ruins and hospitalized. Dana Bradley lost more than part of her leg in the bombing; she also lost her mother and two young children.

Hundreds of stories of tragedy and heroism were to emerge as the days passed — as were endless tales of incredible selflessness and extreme generosity.

But what may never come is a child's ability to understand a cruelty that deprived them of a parent — or a parent's comprehension of the bitterness that took the life of an innocent child.

Gone in one cataclysmic blast were 168 lives. Wounded were more than 500 others. Destroyed were the hopes and dreams of countless friends and relatives.

And lost that moment — although nobody knew it yet — was the innocence of America. Homegrown terrorism had arrived with a vengeance, and the terrorist was the kid next door. And he was cruising away from the carnage — down Interstate 35.


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