Fifteen years ago today at 9:02 a.m., a bomb detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. In total, 168 people died, including 19 children, and more than 600 were injured in what was at the time the worst domestic terrorist attack on American soil.
This morning, again at 9:02, survivors and family members gathered at the Oklahoma City National Memorial to remember the dead with 168 seconds of silence.
At the ceremony, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said today was very similar to that day 15 years ago.
“The temperatures were seasonal, the sun came out and then our lives were changed forever,” Cornett said. “And ultimately each of us individually and collectively have been faced with choices. Choices between strength and uncertainly, choices between optimism and pessimism, between freedom and fear, between moving forward and falling back. And we have made our choices collectively and individually. We have chosen strength, optimism, freedom. And we have chosen to move forward together with a level of unity that is unmatched in any American city.”
The attack, masterminded by Timothy McVeigh, hit at the start of the work day and just as a day care center opened in the Murrah building. Charles Newcomb of Oklahoma Educational Television was one of the first reporters on the scene. He filed this report, which aired on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on April 19, 1995:
Then President Bill Clinton declared an emergency in Oklahoma City and tapped the FBI to lead the investigation. Shortly after the bombing, a police officer stopped McVeigh because his yellow truck lacked a back license plate and arrested him for illegally possessing a firearm.
McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran upset over the federal government’s sieges in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge in Idaho, was convicted in 1997 for planning and executing the bombing. On June 11, 2001, at the age of 33, he was executed by lethal injection. McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols, a friend of McVeigh’s from the Army, was sentenced to life in prison.
Frontline published a document from McVeigh’s defense team that outlined the days and minutes before he carried out the attack. The entry for 9:00 a.m. on April 19, 1995:
He pulled back into the street and at the light at Harvey and NW 5th Street he lit the primary fuse. When the light turned, he pulled into the parking spot in front of the Murrah Building. Possibly two vehicles passed the Ryder truck as he was parking it. One woman looked at Tim as she was headed down the steps to walk into the Murrah Building. She was a white woman, dirty blonde hair, probably mid thirties. He still had on his hat. (and Hankins memo dated 5.10.95)
He left the vehicle in drive, turned off the ignition switch, set the parking brake, dropped the key behind the seat, opened the door, locked it, got out and shut the door behind him. He walked north across Fifth Street into the parking lot without seeing any cars. He did not see any people in the parking lot. He walked down the alley and crossed Robinson Street. He crossed over to the alley behind the YMCA. He did not see any people. He began to jog. At the T behind the YMCA, he turned north into another alley and began to jog when he crossed NW 6th Street. He was about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb went off.
Local public radio station KGOU published a series of first-person reflections and the NewsHour will have more on the anniversary ceremony on Monday’s broadcast.