Shortly after the explosion, Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger stopped 26-year-old Timothy McVeigh for driving without a license plate and arrested him for that offense and for unlawfully carrying a weapon. Within days after the bombing, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both arrested for their roles in the bombing. Investigators determined that they were sympathizers of a militia movement and that their motive was to retaliate against the government's handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents (the bombing occurred on the anniversary of the Waco incident). McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, who testified against McVeigh and Nichols, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to warn the U.S. government. As with other large scale terrorist attacks, conspiracy theories dispute the official claims and point to additional perpetrators involved.
The attacks led to widespread rescue efforts from local, state, and federal and worldwide agencies, along with considerable donations from across the country. As a result of the destruction of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the U.S. government passed legislation designed to increase protection around federal buildings and to thwart future terrorist attacks. Under these measures, law enforcement has since foiled sixty domestic terrorism plots. On April 19, 2000, the Oklahoma City National Memorial was dedicated on the site of the Murrah Federal Building to commemorate the victims of the bombing and annual remembrance services are held at the time of the explosion.
The bombing was a long time in planning; as early as Sept. 30, 1994, Nichols bought 40 bags of ammonium nitrate from Mid-Kansas Coop in McPherson, Kansas, an amount regarded as unusual even for a farmer. McVeigh approached Fortier and asked him to become involved in the bombing project, but he refused, saying he would never be part of the plan "unless there was a U.N. tank in my front yard! To this, McVeigh responded, "What if the tank was in your neighbor's yard? Wouldn't you go to your neighbor's aid? What if it was in the yard of David Koresh?" But Fortier would not budge.
Nichols and McVeigh stole blasting caps and liquid nitro methane, keeping it in rented storage sheds. They also allegedly robbed gun collector Roger E. Moore of $60,000 worth of guns, gold, silver and jewels, taking them away in a van, which was also stolen from him; although this has been called into question because, despite the fact that McVeigh visited Moore's ranch, the robbers were said to be wearing ski masks and thus a positive identification was impossible; and in any event, the physical description did not match Nichols. Also, Aryan Republican Army robbers were operating in the area of Moore's ranch at the time. Moreover, McVeigh did not need to raise money for the bomb, which only cost about $5,000. All told, the truck rental cost about $250, the fertilizer less than $500, and the nitromethane $2,780, with a cheap car being used as a getaway vehicle. McVeigh wrote a letter to Moore opining that government agents had committed the robbery.
McVeigh wanted to use the rocket fuel anhydrous hydrazine, but its expense was prohibitive. Disguised as a bike racer, McVeigh was able to obtain nitromethane on the pretense that he and some fellow bikers needed the fuel for racing. McVeigh rented a storage space, which he used to stockpile seven crates of eighteen-inch-long Tovex sausages, eighty spools of shock tube, and five hundred electric blasting caps they had stolen from a Martin Marietta Aggregates quarry in Marion, Kansas. They decided against using the electric blasting caps, however, because the risk of premature explosion from static electricity was too great. He also declined to take any of the 40,000 pounds of ANFO he found at the scene, since it was not powerful enough for his tastes. He wanted to build a bomb containing more than 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer mixed with about 1,200 pounds of liquid nitromethane, 350 pounds of Tovex, and the miscellaneous weight of sixteen 55-gallon drums, for a combined weight of about 7,000 pounds.
McVeigh made a prototype bomb using a plastic Gatorade jug with ammonium nitrate prills and liquid nitromethane. A piece of Tovex sausage and a blasting cap were used to ignite it. McVeigh exploded it out in the desert.
The original plan was for Nichols to follow McVeigh's getaway car with his truck in the wake of the bombing, and for them then to flee in the truck back to Kansas. He also originally planned to explode the bomb at 11 AM, when federal workers were preparing for lunch. When Fortier asked about all the people who would be killed, McVeigh responded, "Think about the people as if they were storm troopers in Star Wars. They may be individually innocent, but they are guilty because they work for the Evil Empire."
Later, speaking about the military mindset with which he went about the preparations, he said, "You learn how to handle killing in the military. I face the consequences, but you learn to accept it." He viewed his act as more akin to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki than the attack on Pearl Harbor, in that it was necessary to prevent more lives from being lost.
McVeigh developed a list of criteria for potential attack sites. It had to have at least two federal law-enforcement agencies under its roof from a list of three, which were the BATF, the FBI, and the DEA. If there were additional law-enforcement offices, such as the Secret Service or the the U.S. Marshals Service, that would be considered a bonus. McVeigh considered targets in Arkansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Texas. By destroying people who compiled a complete cross-section of federal employees, McVeigh believed that he was showing federal agents how wrong they were to attack the entire Branch Davidian family. The Murrah building was also partly chosen because its front was made of glass, which would shatter under the force of the blast. He also wished to minimize nongovernment casualties and therefore ruled out a forty-story building in Little Rock because a florist's shop was on the ground floor. The Murrah Building was also chosen because the big open parking lot across the street would absorb and dissipate part of the concussion from the blast. McVeigh also realized that the large amount of open space around the building would also create better photo opportunities. McVeigh also sought to maximize the body count of federal employees.
A week before the bombing, McVeigh visited Oklahoma City to make sure no new construction had been undertaken that could create traffic detours. He practiced his course in dry runs, preparing for all kinds of contingencies, from flat tires to run-ins with police. He scouted the route looking for speed traps, highway construction, possible road hazards, and underpasses too low for the truck. He left his getaway car a few blocks from the Murrah building with a note covering the Vehicle Identification Number plate that read, "Not abandoned. Please do not tow. Will move by April 23. (Needs battery & cable).
On April 15, 1995 Timothy McVeigh rented a Ryder truck in Junction City, Kansas under the alias Robert D. Kling, an alias he adopted because he had known a soldier named Kling with whom he shared physical characteristics, and because it reminded him of the Klingon warriors of Star Trek. On April 16, he drove to Oklahoma City with fellow conspirator Terry Nichols where he parked a getaway vehicle several blocks away from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. After removing the license plate from the car, the two men returned to Kansas. On April 17 and April 18, the men loaded 108 bags of explosive-grade ammonium nitrate fertilizer, three drums of liquid nitromethane, several crates of explosive Tovex, seventeen bags of ANFO, and spools of shock tube and cannon fuse into the truck. The two then drove to Geary County State Lake where they nailed boards into the floor to hold the barrels in place and mixed the chemicals together using plastic buckets and a bathroom scale. McVeigh then added a dual-fuse ignition system that he could access through the truck's front cab. McVeigh also included more explosives on the driver's side of the cargo bay, which he could ignite at close range, at the cost of his own life, with his Glock 21 pistol if the primary fuses failed. After finishing the construction of the truck-bomb, the two men separated. Nichols returned to Herington, Kansas; McVeigh drove the truck to Oklahoma City. Later during McVeigh's trial, a witness stated that McVeigh claimed to have arranged the barrels in order to form a shaped charge. Specifically, McVeigh arranged the barrels in a backwards J; he said later that for pure destructive power, he would have put all the barrels on the side of the cargo bay closest to the Murrah Building; but such an unevenly-distributed 7,000-pound load might have broken an axle, flipped the truck over, or at least caused it to list to one side, which could have drawn attention. Three additional empty blue steel barrels were in the cargo hold behind the main charge, "as a decoy." According to Terry Nichols, 12 bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were left loose and placed between the barrels and the aluminum truck casing.
Two holes were drilled in the cab of the Ryder truck, under the seat; and two holes were drilled in the van of the Ryder truck. One green cannon fuse was run through each hole into the cab. These time-delayed fuses led from the cab of the truck, through plastic fish-tank tubing conduit (painted yellow to blend in with the truck, and duct-taped in place to the wall to make them harder to disable by yanking from the outside), to two sets of non-electric Primadet blasting caps; which were set up to initiate, through shock tube, the 350 pounds of Tovex Blastrite Gel "sausages"; which would in turn set off the configuration of barrels. According to Nichols, a major booster charge of Tovex was put at the V-point in the configuration of barrels, and the barrels also had some Tovex in them; Kinepak was mixed and put in the major booster charge. Of the thirteen non-empty barrels, nine were filled with ammonium nitrate and nitro-methane, and four were filled with the fertilizer and about four gallons of diesel fuel. Nine bags of unopened fertilizer remained stacked in the driver's side of the cab. This was because there had not been enough nitro-methane to mix all 13 barrels. Despite the ready availability of diesel fuel at service stations, it was not possible to make up for the shortage of nitromethane by obtaining more diesel fuel to add to the fertilizer, because the blasting caps were too unstable and the nitromethane too unstable and easily degradable after mixing it with explosive-grade fertilizer, to transport long distances in the back of a bumpy rental truck. It is speculated, by investigative journalist J.D. Cash and others, that there may have been other explosives stored in the offices by federal law enforcement agents in the course of their duties. Government officials denied knowledge of such storage.
At dawn on April 19, as he drove toward the Murrah Federal building, McVeigh carried with him an envelope whose contents included pages from The Turner Diaries, a fictional account of modern-day revolutionary activists who rise up against the government and create a full scale race war. He wore a printed T-shirt with the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Sic semper tyrannis ("Thus ever to tyrants", which was shouted by John Wilkes Booth immediately after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) and "The tree of liberty must be refreshed time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" (from Thomas Jefferson). As the truck approached the building, at 8:57 a.m. CST, McVeigh lit the five-minute fuse. Three minutes later, still a block away, he lit the two-minute fuse. He parked the Ryder truck in a drop-off zone situated under the building's day care center, locked the vehicle, and headed to his getaway vehicle.
McVeigh carried an envelope of antigovernment materials to the bombing. These included a bumper sticker with Samuel Adams' slogan, "When the government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny." Underneath, McVeigh had scrawled, "Maybe now, there will be liberty!" Another quote contained John Locke's quote, "I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else. And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can.
The effects of the blast were equivalent to over of TNT, and could be heard and felt up to away. Seismometers at the Omniplex Science Museum in Oklahoma City, away, and in Norman, Oklahoma, away, recorded the blast as measuring approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale.
After a court hearing on the gun charges, but before McVeigh was released, federal agents took him into custody as they continued their investigation into the bombing. Rather than talk to investigators about the bombing, McVeigh demanded an attorney. Having been tipped off by the arrival of police and helicopters that a bombing suspect was inside, a restless crowd began forming outside the jail. McVeigh's requests for a bulletproof vest or transport by helicopter were denied. FBI agent Coulson Danny O. Coulson said, "Fuck him. If he was worried about it, he shouldn't have bombed the building." Coulson traveled by helicopter with McVeigh, and told the pilot to take evasive action lest they get hit by an FIM-92 Stinger.
Federal agents obtained a search warrant for the house of McVeigh's father Bill, and accordingly broke down the door and wired his home and telephone with listening devices. Federal agents then searched for Nichols, a friend of McVeigh. Two days after the bombing, Nichols learned that FBI investigators were looking for him, and he turned himself in. They found ammonium nitrate and Primadet at his house, along with the electric drill used to drill out the locks at the quarry, as well as books on bomb-making and a copy of Hunter, in addition to a hand-drawn map of downtown Oklahoma City which included the Murrah Building and the spot where McVeigh's getaway car was hidden. After a nine-hour interrogation, he was formally held in federal custody until his trial for involvement in the bombing. Terry Nichols' brother James was also arrested but released after 32 days for lack of evidence. McVeigh's sister Jennifer was accused of illegally mailing bullets to McVeigh, but was granted immunity in exchange for testifying against him.
Ibrahim Ahmad, a Jordanian-American traveling from his home in Oklahoma City to visit family in Jordan was also arrested in what was described as an "initial dragnet". Due to his background, the media initially was concerned that Middle Eastern terrorists were behind the attack. Further investigation, however, cleared Ahmad in the bombing.
At the end of the day of the bombing, twenty people were confirmed dead, including six children, with over a hundred injured. The toll eventually reached 168 confirmed dead, not including an unmatched leg that might be from a possible, unidentified 169th victim. Of these, 163 were killed in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, one person in the Athenian Building, one woman in a parking lot across the street, a man and woman in the Oklahoma Water Resources building, and a rescue worker struck in the head by debris. The victims ranged in age from three months to seventy-three, not including unborn children of three pregnant women. Of the dead, 99 worked for the federal government; the other 69 did not. Nineteen of the victims were children, including fifteen who were in the America's Kids Day Care Center. The bodies of all 168 victims were identified at a temporary morgue set up at the scene. Twenty-four people, including sixteen specialists, used full-body X-rays, dental examinations, fingerprinting, blood tests, and DNA testing to identify the bodies. The bomb injured 853 people with the majority of the injuries ranging from abrasions to severe burns and bone fractures.
At 9:03:25 a.m. CST, the first of over 1,800 9-1-1 calls related to the bombing was received by Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA). By that time, EMSA ambulances and members of the police and firefighters were already headed to the scene, having heard the blast. Nearby citizens, who had also witnessed or heard the blast, arrived to assist the victims and emergency workers. Within 23 minutes of the bombing, the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) was set up and included representatives of the state departments of public safety, human services, military, health, and education. Assisting the SEOC were agencies such as the National Weather Service, the Air Force, the Civil Air Patrol, and the American Red Cross. Immediate assistance also came from 465 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, who arrived within the hour to provide security, and from members of the Department of Civil Emergency Management. Within the first hour, fifty people were rescued from the Murrah Federal building. Victims were sent to every hospital in the area. By the end of the day, 153 victims had been treated at St. Anthony Hospital, eight blocks from the blast, over 70 at Presbyterian, 41 at University, and 18 at Children's. Temporary silences were observed so listening devices capable of detecting human heartbeats could be used to locate survivors. In some cases, limbs had to be amputated without anesthetic (avoided due to its potential to cause a deadly coma) in order to free those trapped under rubble. Evacuations of the scene were sometimes forced by the receipt by police of tips claiming that more bombs had been planted in the building.
At 10:28 a.m. CST, rescuers found what they believed to be a second bomb. Some rescue workers initially refused to leave until police ordered a mandatory evacuation of a four-block area around the site. However about 45 minutes later the device was determined to be a simulator used in training federal agents and bomb-sniffing dogs, and relief efforts were continued. The last survivor, a fifteen-year-old girl found under the base of the collapsed building, was discovered at about 7:00 p.m. CST.
In the days following the blast, over 12,000 people participated in relief and rescue operations. FEMA activated 11 of its Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces, comprising a team of 665 rescue workers who assisted in rescue and recovery operations. In an effort to recover additional bodies, 100 to 350 tons of rubble were removed from the site each day until April 29. Twenty-four K-9 units and out-of-state dogs were brought in to search for survivors and locate bodies amongst the building refuse.
Rescue and recovery efforts were concluded at 11:50 p.m. on May 4, with the bodies of all but three victims recovered. For safety reasons, the building was to be demolished shortly afterward. However, McVeigh's attorney, Stephen Jones, called for a motion to delay the demolition until the defense team could examine the site in preparation for the trial. More than a month after the bombing, at 7:01 a.m. on May 23, the Murrah Federal building was demolished. The final three bodies, those of two credit union employees and a customer, were recovered. For several days after the building's demolition, trucks hauled of debris a day away from the site. Some of the debris was used as evidence in the conspirators' trials, incorporated into parts of memorials, donated to local schools, and sold to raise funds for relief efforts.
At 9:45 a.m. CST, Governor Frank Keating declared a state of emergency and ordered all non-essential workers located in the Oklahoma City area to be released from their duties for their safety. President Bill Clinton learned about the bombing around 10:00 a.m. while he was meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller at the White House. At 4:00 p.m. CST, President Clinton declared a federal emergency in Oklahoma City and spoke to the nation:
The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it, and I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.Four days later, on April 23, Clinton spoke from Oklahoma City.
There was no major federal financial assistance provided to the survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing, However, the Murrah Fund was established and collected over $300,000 from federal grants. Additionally, individuals around the country donated $15 million to aid the disaster relief and to compensate the victims. Later, a committee chaired by Daniel J Kurtenbach of Goodwill Industries provided financial assistance to the survivors.
In the wake of the bombing, the national media seized upon the fact that 19 of the victims had been children. Schools across the country were dismissed early and ordered closed. A photograph of firefighter Chris Fields emerging from the rubble with infant Baylee Almon, who later died in a nearby hospital, was reprinted worldwide and became a symbol of the attack. The images and thoughts of children dying terrorized many children who, as demonstrated by later research, showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, showed concern about how children were reacting to the bombing. They requested that aides talk to child care specialists about how to talk to the children regarding the bombing. President Clinton spoke to the nation three days after the bombing, saying: "I don't want our children to believe something terrible about life and the future and grownups in general because of this awful thing...most adults are good people who want to protect our children in their childhood and we are going to get through this". On the Saturday after the bombing, April 22, the Clintons gathered children of employees of federal agencies that had offices in the Murrah Building, and in a live nationwide television and radio broadcast, addressed their concerns.
As the rescue effort wound down, the media interest shifted to the investigation, arrests, and trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and on the search for an additional suspect named "John Doe 2". Several witnesses had claimed to see the second suspect with McVeigh who did not resemble Nichols.
In his trial, whose venue had been moved from Oklahoma City to Denver, Colorado, McVeigh was represented by a defense counsel team of six principal attorneys led by Stephen Jones. According to Linder, McVeigh wanted Jones to present a "necessity defense"––which would argue that he was in "imminent danger" from the government (that his bombing was intended to prevent future crimes by the government, such as the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents). McVeigh argued that "'imminent' does not mean 'immediate.' If a comet is hurtling toward the earth, and it's out past the orbit of Pluto, it's not an immediate threat to Earth, but it is an imminent threat. Contrary to his client's wishes, however:
Jones opted for a strategy of trying to poke what holes he could in the prosecution's case, thus raising a question of reasonable doubt. In addition, Jones believed that McVeigh was taking far more responsibility for the bombing than was justified and that McVeigh, although clearly guilty, was only a player in a large conspiracy.... In his book about the McVeigh case, Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy, Jones wrote: "It strains belief to suppose that this appalling crime was the work of two men—any two men...Could [this conspiracy] have been designed to protect and shelter everyone involved? Everyone, that is, except my client...[.]" Jones considered presenting McVeigh as "the designated patsy" in a cleverly designed plot, but his own client opposed the strategy and Judge Matsch, after a hearing, ruled the evidence concerning a larger conspiracy to be too insubstantial to be admissible.Jones tried to link the bombing to associates of Terry Nichols in the Philippines; to Osama bin Laden and other Arab terrorists; to a German descendant of a Nazi Party leader; to Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing; and to associates of a white separatist group in the Oklahoma compound Elohim City. In addition to arguing that the bombing could not have been accomplished by two men alone but must have been perpetrated by a conspiracy of more people whom McVeigh was protecting, Jones also attempted to raise reasonable doubt by arguing that no one had seen McVeigh near the scene of the crime and that the investigation into the bombing had lasted merely two weeks. During the trial, Linder observed further:
The defense presented 25 witnesses over just a one-week period. The most effective witness for the defense might have been Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, who provided a damning critique of the FBI's sloppy investigation of the bombing site and its handling of other key evidence. Unfortunately for McVeigh, while Whitehurst could show that FBI techniques made contamination of evidence possible, he could not point to any evidence (such as trace evidence of explosives on the shirt McVeigh wore on April 19) that he knew to be contaminated.
Numerous damaging leaks emerged, which appeared to originate from conversations McVeigh had with his defense attorneys. These included a confession that was said to have been inadvertently included on a computer disk that was given to the press. McVeigh believed that it seriously compromised his chances of getting a fair trial. A gag order was imposed during the trial that prohibited attorneys on either side from commenting to the press on the evidence, proceedings, and opinions regarding the trial proceedings. The defense was only allowed to enter into evidence 6 pages of a 517-page Justice Department report criticizing the FBI crime laboratory, and David Williams, one of the agency's explosives experts, for reaching unscientific and biased conclusions about the Oklahoma City bombing. The report claimed that Williams had worked backward in the investigation rather than basing his determinations on forensic evidence. The jury deliberated for twenty-three hours. On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was found guilty on eleven counts of murder and conspiracy. Although the defense argued for a reduced sentence of life imprisonment, McVeigh was sentenced to death. After President George W. Bush approved the execution (since McVeigh was a federal inmate, federal law dictates that the President must approve the execution) he was executed by lethal injection at a U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, on June 11, 2001. The execution was televised on closed-circuit television so that the relatives of the victims could witness his death.
Until the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest act of terror against the U.S. on American soil. Prior to this, the deadliest act of terror against the United States was the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 189 Americans. In response, the U.S. Government enacted several pieces of legislation, notably the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. In response to the trials of the conspirators being moved out-of-state, the Victim Allocution Clarification Act of 1997 was signed on March 20, 1997 by President Clinton to allow the victims of the bombing (and the victims of any other future acts of violence) the right to observe trials and to offer impact testimony in trials. In response to passing the legislation, Clinton stated that "when someone is a victim, he or she should be at the center of the criminal justice process, not on the outside looking in."
In the weeks following the bombing, the federal government ordered that all federal buildings in all major cities be surrounded with prefabricated Jersey barriers to ward off similar attacks. As part of a longer plan for United States federal building security, most of these temporary barriers have since been replaced with permanent security barriers which look more attractive and are driven deep into the ground for sturdiness. Furthermore, all new federal buildings must now be constructed with truck-resistant barriers and with deep setbacks from surrounding streets to minimize their vulnerability to truck bombs. FBI buildings, for instance, must be set back 100 feet from traffic. The total cost of improving security in federal buildings across the country in response to the bombing reached over $600 million. In June 1995, the General Services Administration issued Vulnerability Assessment of Federal Facilities, also known as The Marshals Report. These findings resulted in a thorough evaluation of security at all federal buildings and a system for classifying risks at over 1,300 federal facilities owned or leased by the federal government. Federal sites were divided into five security levels ranging from Level 1 (minimum security needs) to Level 5 (maximum). The Alfred P. Murrah Building was a Level 4 building. Among the 52 security improvement factors were parking, lighting, physical barriers, closed circuit television monitoring, site planning and access, vehicular circulation, standoff distance (which is the setback of the building envelope from the street to mitigate truck bomb damage), hardening of building exteriors to increase blast resistance, glazing systems to reduce flying glass shards and fatalities, and structural engineering design to prevent progressive collapse.
According to Mark Potok, director of Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, law enforcement officials have foiled over fifty domestic terror plots since the Oklahoma City bombing. The attacks were prevented due to measures established by the local and federal government to increase security of high-priority targets and following-up on hate groups within the United States.
The attack led to improvements in engineering for the purpose of constructing buildings that would be better able to withstand tremendous forces. Oklahoma City's new federal building was constructed using those improvements. The National Geographic Channel documentary series Seconds From Disaster suggested that the Murrah Building would probably have survived the blast had it been built according to California earthquake design codes.
Even many who agreed with some of McVeigh's politics viewed his act as counterproductive. Much of the criticism focused on the deaths of innocent children. Bob Murphy of Anti-State argued that the attack would "lead ordinary Americans to trust the government when it says those who oppose it are crazy fanatics. Liz Michael opined, "McVeigh was wrong. Not because he was a killer. Because killing is often necessary and sometimes good, even godly. McVeigh was wrong because he was a bad soldier. His target was wrong. His timing was wrong. And there was no clear moral grounding in his plan. These critics, and others, expressed chagrin that McVeigh had not assassinated specific government leaders instead. Indeed, McVeigh had considered assassinating Attorney-General Janet Reno and others rather than bombing a building, and after the bombing said that sometimes he wished he had committed a series of assassinations instead. However, Outpost of Freedom decried the labeling of McVeigh as a "baby-killer," arguing that the blame for the children's death rested on the parents who brought them to a federal building and the government that maintained a day care center there despite Government Accounting Office recommendations; sentiments echoed by McVeigh himself in An Essay on Hypocrisy. It criticized the patriot media for taking a "politically correct position in expressing concern and declaring the event as an unnecessary tragedy. Those who expressed sympathy for McVeigh typically described his deed as an act of war, as in the case of Gore Vidal's essay, The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh. Other journalists compared him to John Brown.
"Timothy McVeigh is not just a mass murderer; he's a very confused mass murderer. Besides having no appreciation for the value of human life, McVeigh apparently has no understanding of the meaning of the word libertarian. Just to set the record straight, real libertarians wholeheartedly reject the use of force to achieve political or social goals. Real libertarians see violence and try to prevent it, see problems and organize cooperative solutions, and see government abusing its power and work peacefully through the political system to protect our rights.
McVeigh thought that the bombing had a positive impact on government policy. As evidence, he cited the peaceful resolution of the Montana Freemen standoff in 1996, the government's $3.1 million settlement with Randy Weaver and his surviving children four months after the bombing, and April 2000 statements by Bill Clinton regretting his decision to storm the Branch Davidian compound. McVeigh noted, "Once you bloody the bully's nose, and he knows he's going to be punched again, he's not coming back around.
Although multiple ideas for memorials were sent to Oklahoma City within the first day after the bombing, an official memorial planning committee did not form until early 1996. The Murrah Federal Building Memorial Task Force, composed of 350 members, was established to formulate plans in choosing a memorial to commemorate the victims of the bombing. On July 1, 1997, the winning design was chosen unanimously by a 15-member panel from 624 submissions. The memorial, which has become part of the National Park Service, was designed by Oklahoma City architects Hans and Torrey Butzer and Sven Berg. It was dedicated by President Clinton on April 19, 2000, exactly five years after the bombing.
The museum includes a reflecting pool flanked by two large "gates", one inscribed with the time 9:01, the opposite with 9:03, the pool between representing the moment of the blast. On the south end of the memorial is a field full of symbolic bronze and stone chairs—one for each person lost, arranged based on what floor they were on. The chairs represent the empty chairs at the dinner tables of the victim's family. The seats of the children killed are smaller than those of the adults lost. On the opposite side is the "survivor tree", part of the building's original landscaping that somehow survived the blast and fires that followed it. The memorial left part of the foundation of the building intact, so that visitors can see the scale of the destruction. Around the western edge of the memorial is a portion of the chain link fence which had amassed over 800,000 personal items which were later collected by the Oklahoma City Memorial Foundation.
On a corner adjacent to the memorial is a sculpture titled "And Jesus Wept", erected by St. Joseph's Catholic Church. St. Joseph's, one of the first brick and mortar churches in the city, was almost completely destroyed by the blast. The statue is not part of the memorial itself but is popular with visitors nonetheless. North of the memorial is the Journal Record Building which now houses the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, an affiliate of the National Park Service. Also in the building is the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, a non-partisan think tank.
On April 19, as in previous years, the tenth anniversary of the bombing observances began with a service at 09:02 CST, marking the moment the bomb went off, with the traditional 168 seconds of silence - one second for each person who was killed as a result of the blast. The service also included the traditional reading of the names, read by children to symbolize the future of Oklahoma City.
Vice President Dick Cheney, former president Clinton, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, and other political dignitaries attended the service and gave speeches in which they emphasized that "goodness overcame evil". The relatives of the victims and the survivors of the blast also made note of it during the service at First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City.
President George W. Bush made note of the anniversary in a written statement, part of which echoes his remarks on the execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001: "For the survivors of the crime and for the families of the dead the pain goes on. Bush was invited but did not attend the service because he was en route to Springfield, Illinois to dedicate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Vice President Cheney presided over the service in his place.
Some people believe that a conspiracy is covering up the existence of additional explosives planted within the Murrah building. Multiple websites show alleged cover-ups and other possible perpetrators who helped in planning the bombing.
Conspiracy theorists say that there are several discrepancies, such as an inconsistency between the observed destruction and the bomb used by McVeigh. One vocal proponent of this view is Brigadier General Benton K. Partin. Many critics of the official explanation point to a blast effects study published in 1997, utilizing test results from the Eglin Air Force Base, which concluded that "it is impossible to ascribe the damage that occurred on April, 1995 to a single truck bomb containing 4,800 lbs. of ANFO" so that the damage to the Murrah building was "not the result of the truck bomb itself, but rather due to other factors such as locally placed charges within the building itself".Some experts ascribe the unusually large blast pattern to a thermobaric weapon, utilizing highly flammable metal particles mixed with a liquid high explosive. When ignited in a two-stage process, the device creates a super-high heat and pressure blast capable of flattening buildings.
Several witnesses reported a second person seen around the time of the bombing; investigators would later call him "John Doe 2". There are several theories that the second person was also affiliated with the bombing and was even a possible foreign connection to McVeigh and Nichols.This was due to the fact that Terry Nichols travelled through the Phillipines while terrorist mastermind Ramzi Yousef of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was planning his Project Bojinka plot in Manila. Although the U.S. government did arrest an Army private who resembled an artist's rendering of John Doe 2 based on eyewitness accounts, they later released him after their investigation reported he was not involved with the bombing.
Some people have argued that seismic recordings of the event indicated multiple bombs. This contention was refuted by U.S. Geological Survey and Oklahoma Geological Survey scientists, who recorded and analyzed seismic signals from the demolition of the Murrah building. These demolition seismograms showed that the two pulses of energy recorded in Norman, OK from the bombing were due to the seismic response of the Earth rather than to multiple blast sources.
In 2006, congressman Dana Rohrabacher said that the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, which he chaired, would investigate whether the Oklahoma City bombers had assistance from foreign sources. On December 28, 2006, when asked about fueling conspiracy theories with his questions and criticism, Rohrabacher told CNN: "There's nothing wrong with adding to a conspiracy theory when there might be a conspiracy, in fact."