Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Trip to Terrorism

As a child, Timothy McVeigh was full of fun and easy to like. Born April 23,1968, he was the middle child of three, and the only boy. He grew up in Pendleton N.Y. — a small town just south of the Canadian border by the Erie Canal. Mainly white, blue collar and Christian, it was the kind of place where kids could run into a neighbor's house without knocking. Young "Timmy" did just that, and was always welcome.

The town, established by Sylvester Pendleton Clark, was called after his mother's maiden name. It maintains a strong connection with nearby Lockport — famous before the Civil War as a departure point for slaves escaping to Canada and freedom. Clark himself was a rugged individual who had led a rebellion against government taxes in the early 1800s. A strong independent spirit still characterizes Pendleton.

Tim's father, Bill McVeigh, worked mainly in a local car radiator plant, but it was his grandfather Eddie McVeigh who influenced the boy most. He taught young Tim about the outdoors, hunting and, significantly, introduced him to guns.

Author Richard A. Sorrano, in his book One of Ours: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, found former neighbors remembered the young McVeigh with affection. One told Sorrano that McVeigh was "a clown, always a happy person," and that he always found a way to make a little money. Some Halloweens he could run up a haunted house and charge admission. "The kids in the neighborhood thought it was great." 

When he was nine years old, a crippling blizzard hit town. Out for drinks at a local hotel, his mother phoned to say they were snowbound, and that she wouldn't make it home that night. It was a blizzard where people froze to death, were buried in cars and generally trapped. By the time it let up, days had passed and many had run out of basic supplies. As Tim helped shovel neighbors' roadways, he learned about survival. The family began stockpiling food, water and other necessities to cope with the enemy — weather.

At age 13, his Grandpa Eddie presented Tim with a .22 caliber rifle. It was the first of many guns he would own. He was so into firearms that he answered the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" with "gun shop owner." Furthermore, he used to take one of his guns to school sometimes to impress the other guys. It worked.

At home, the family experienced continued turbulence. His mother, Mickey liked to socialize and stay out late. She was torn between fun and family. Finally, when Tim was in his teens, she left for good and in 1986 she and Bill finally divorced. It was the same year Tim graduated from high school with honors. 

Richard A. Sarrano says Spanish teacher Deborah Carballo called Tim "...a nice kid. You'll never find a person at Starpoint who can say a bad thing about him."

On graduating, Tim quit his high school job at Burger King, sold his Commodore 64 computer and spent much of his time researching the Second Amendment. He was developing an intense interest in the rights of gun owners. At his father's insistence, he did a stint at business college, but found it too monotonous. His days of formal education were over.

It was at this time that he discovered The Turner Diaries. He obsessed over this novel by former American Nazi Party official William Pierce. Writing under the name Andrew Macdonald, Pierce pumps out a litany of hate through the main character — Earl Turner. This "hero" demonstrates his contempt for gun control laws by truck-bombing the Washington FBI headquarters. He also appears to favor Adolf Hitler and dismiss blacks and Jews as worthy of annihilation.

About the same time, the movie Red Dawn helped convince McVeigh it was time to become a survivalist like Jedd — the film's hero played by Patrick Swayze. In the movie, Jedd leads his band of followers into the woods with seemingly endless rounds of ammo and supplies they'll need to survive. Their mission is to destroy an invading Communist army.

Because McVeigh needed funds to finance his growing fantasies, he went back to work for Burger King while he looked for a better paying job. Soon he was employed as an armed security guard with the Burke Armored Car Service, where he's remembered as a diligent employee.

By now, he was 20 years old. He had a uniform, a gun and an armored vehicle to drive around in. But he longed for better targets, bigger guns and real tanks.

So, on May 24, 1988 Tim McVeigh joined the Army. There, he'd meet two men who would join him on his trip to terrorism.


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