Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Innocence Lost

The pressure to find a suspect after any crime is intense — but especially so in the case of the Oklahoma bombing.

Special Agent Floyd Zimms
Special Agent Floyd
Zimms (AP)

FBI agents were concerned that foreign terrorists were at work, and that other bombings could follow. On their minds was the World Trade Center bombing of February 26,1993. Then, Islamic terrorists had exploded a device that killed six and injured more than a thousand others.

The media had immediately assumed outsiders were responsible. They speculated third-world terrorists — likely Arab extremists — were at work, and that other targets had been chosen.

Anonymous tips flooded into papers and broadcasting stations across the nation. Many even claimed to know exactly where and when the next explosion would occur. Even in Oklahoma City, police had received tips that other bombs had been planted in the Murrah building — cruel gestures that forced further evacuations and hampered rescue workers. So it was with a sense of satisfaction and heightened urgency that the FBI had found a lead as quickly as they had.

At Washington's National Crime Information Center, computers generated a report: Trooper Hanger had also run a report on McVeigh. Noble County Sheriff Jerry Cook confirmed they were holding McVeigh on unrelated charges.

The excitement intensified at the Oklahoma City command center. Cheers of relief went up as the news that "We got him!" spread. Immediately, agents were in choppers heading for the Noble County jail.

The media wasn't far behind. Soon, the world would know who the chief suspect was.

Timothy McVeigh led by police
Timothy McVeigh led by police (AP)

In jail, McVeigh was in a waiting area near the courtroom when the sheriff received the news the bomber was in his custody and to hold him. McVeigh's trial was due to start soon.

Suddenly, officers came to lead him back to his cell. They were playing it cool; saying only, "the judge isn't ready for you."

Back in his cell, another inmate asked McVeigh if he was the bomber. Reportedly, McVeigh ignored the question.

Knowing the suspect would try to contact a lawyer, someone had disconnected the outgoing pay phone in the cell.

Soon, he was taken to a room where FBI Special Agents Zimms and Norman Jr. waited. Zimms explained, " may have some information about the bombing. I'm going to read you your rights."

McVeigh demanded an attorney.

Outside, the noise was building as a restless crowd gathered. The arrival of helicopters and police had signaled that someone involved in the bombing was inside.

There, McVeigh had asked for a bulletproof vest before being led outside. His mind was filled with images of the Jack Ruby-Lee Harvey Oswald shooting. His request was denied. He also asked if they could take him away in a helicopter. Again his request was denied, the agents explained the roof was unsuitable for chopper landing.

By now, the crowd was turning nasty, and impatient cries of "bring him out" filled the air.

Terry Nichols
Terry Nichols (AP)

As he was led out in handcuffs and leg irons, they roared, "Scumbag!" "Murderer!" and "Baby Killer!" Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, McVeigh looked neither left nor right. His eyes were narrowed, his face expressionless as they took him away to screams of "Kill the creep!"

About the same time, a similar scene was being played out in another small town — Herington, Kansas — some 200 miles away. Forty-year-old Terry Nichols had driven to the local police station to talk to officers. Again, the word that someone connected with the bombing was in the station spread like wildfire.

Locals holding children, kids out of school and farmers stared in disbelief that a local who professed to be a patriotic citizen could be involved. Like the people of Perry, some began shouting insults, and demanded he come out and show his face. He had parked his four-wheel drive bearing an "American and Proud" symbol on its rear window.

By the time the day was over, the country was finding it difficult to accept or come to terms with the fact that the two men involved looked so much like most of them. They had spent most of the time after the blast looking outward. Politicians, broadcasters and print media had each played a part in inflaming mainly anti-Islamic sentiment. And, in government, some were demanding the immediate passage of tough new anti-immigration laws to "keep this cancer out of America."

Suddenly, the painful realization dawned: men who looked like the guys next door had perpetrated this horrendous crime — the costliest in American history — both in human and financial terms. Even worse, terrorism within the country was suddenly an ominous reality.

The question asked most was: What kind of man did this and why?


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