Mollie Halpern: One hundred sixty-eight people—including 19 children—were killed in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City 20 years ago this week. Among those killed were eight federal law enforcement officers. Some 400 others were injured.
FBI Director James Comey spoke to victims, investigators, and others earlier this week at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.
Director James Comey: For 20 years, you have sought the good coming out of the darkness. It is your way of saying: ‘We remember. We will never forget. But we will move bravely forward.’”
Halpern: The date was April 19, 2005. There was a large blast at 9:02 a.m.
At the time, Florence Roberts, the CEO of the Federal Employees Credit Union, was sitting in her office.
Florence Roberts: I was able to push the rubble off myself and climb out on the ledge outside my window that had blown out, which I’m sure saved me a lot of cuts.
Halpern: Florence survived with just minor injuries but lost 18 of her employees.
About seven miles away, FBI Special Agent Barry Black heard the loud explosion and saw a thick cloud of black smoke filling the sky. A bomb technician, he drove to the blast site where fires were still burning. He immediately started trying to determine what happened. The FBI began coordinating with other federal and state agencies. A command center was set up. Bomb techs searched for secondary explosives. Evidence techs looked for clues. Agents interviewed witnesses and tracked down leads.
Meanwhile, about 60 miles north of the Oklahoma City, a state trooper was making a routine traffic stop after observing a vehicle with a missing license plate. The driver was eventually arrested for carrying a concealed firearm.
Back at the bomb site, the FBI was quickly figuring out that a truck bomb was the cause of the explosion. Investigators collected parts of the truck, and the Vehicle Identification Number led them to a rental store in Kansas. One day after the bombing, the FBI released a sketch of the man who rented that truck. The owner of a hotel said the sketch resembled a guest registered as Timothy McVeigh. A search of police records showed McVeigh was in jail. He was the driver the state trooper had arrested for carrying a concealed firearm.
It was McVeigh who had parked the 20-foot truck loaded with 4,800 pounds of explosives outside of the Murrah building.
McVeigh, a decorated Army Veteran of the first Gulf War, believed the U.S. government was attacking Americans’ personal rights and freedoms.
The investigation also revealed that McVeigh’s army buddy, Terry Nichols, shared his anti-government sentiments. Nichols had helped McVeigh buy and steal materials and mix the ingredients for the bomb.
Nichols turned himself in to authorities two days after the bombing.
The investigation into the bombing was among the largest and most complex in FBI history. For over 32 months, the FBI-led OKBOMB Task Force logged more than one million hours of investigative work. FBI Special Agent Barry Black.
Barry Black: It’s that kind of effort and that no stone unturned theory kind of that the Bureau can bring to a major case and bring it to a conclusion.
Halpern: A federal jury found Timothy McVeigh guilty of all counts—including using a weapon of mass destruction that caused death and injury. He was executed in June of 2001.
His co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, is serving a life sentence for eight counts of manslaughter.
The anti-government extremists had committed what is the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history. An act the FBI says will do all it can to prevent from happening again. FBI Director James Comey…
Comey: There is evil in this world. You know that to be true—you have lived that truth. But know this: We in the FBI will do all that we can—all that we must—to find and stop that evil, so that you never again need to endure such darkness. We will do all that we can to ensure that justice and the rule of law trump savagery and hatred. We will do all that we can to keep you safe.
Halpern: For more details on this case, visit www.fbi.gov. I’m Mollie Halpern of the Bureau, and you've been listening to Inside the FBI.