Survivors and friends and family of victims killed in the Oklahoma City bombing gathered at the city’s National Memorial Wednesday, April 19 to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the attack that killed nearly 170 people.
Timothy McVeigh was executed following the 1995 attack; accomplice Terry Nichols was sentenced to life in prison. Two others, Michael and Lori Fortier, were also arrested. Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for not reporting the bombing plot. Lori Fortier received immunity in exchange for her testimony against McVeigh and Nichols.
The bombing was the most horrific act of terrorism in the United States at the time. It became the second-deadliest after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C.
Media coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing was also extensive alongside that of the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, which began in January of 1995.
United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony. The Murray Building housed HUD and other federal offices at the time of the bombing, which killed 35 HUD workers. Fifty HUD employees survived.
“The things that happened here 22 years ago, affected us a nation,” Carson said. “This great crime, not only on Oklahoma City, but on America, is something that still echoes in the memories of my colleagues at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This observance is about more than our losses. It is about the survivors and revisiting the cherished memories.”
A total of 19 children were killed in the explosion, most of whom were being cared for in the America’s Kids Day Care Center. After the bombing, McVeigh said he and Nichols would have chosen another target had he known there was a day care center inside the Murrah Building.
The horror began at around 9 a.m., Wednesday, April 19, 1995, when more nearly 2,000 911 calls were made to Oklahoma City dispatchers. Emergency vehicles had already responded to the scene, as the explosion shook the otherwise calm city, shattering the silence of a crisp spring morning.
Federal emergency workers also converged on the scene within an hour, along with the Oklahoma National Guard, United States Air Force, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Dozens of victims were rushed from the decimated building to triage stations, while a makeshift morgue temporarily housed the dead. Victims were brought to local hospitals, and by Thursday morning, April 20, 282 people were treated at three area medical centers.
Several people remained trapped; electronic listening devices were used to detect human heartbeats of those pinned under stone, twisted wire, iron beams, and tons of ash. Emergency personnel were forced to cut limbs from some survivors in order to free them. Approximately 650 people were injured in the explosion.
A third of the building was destroyed. Damage was estimated at $650 million. The bomb used in the attack was placed in a rental truck McVeigh parked near the building. McVeigh and Nichols crafted the explosive two days before by creating a mixture of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel weighing more than 4,500 pounds. The mixture was placed in 13 barrels, packed into the truck, and rigged with a fused ignition system.
McVeigh and Nichols separated after building the bomb. McVeigh drove to Oklahoma City from Kansas and arrived at around 8:50 a.m. He initially intended to detonate the bomb a few hours later, but he changed his mind on his way to Oklahoma City. At around 9 a.m., he lit the bomb’s fuses, parked the truck near the drop-off zone of the day care, and fled the scene on foot.
McVeigh and Nichols met while they were stationed at Fort Benning serving in the United States Army. Fortier was McVeigh’s roommate. All three men expressed anger at the federal government, centered largely on FBI situations involving Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.
McVeigh chose to bomb the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City after scouting other targets. He chose Oklahoma City in part because the building has been previously targeted by white supremacists, and that it housed a number of federal agencies such as the ATF and DEA over the years.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]