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Context of 'February 20, 1995: Oklahoma City Bombing Conspirator Sends Letter to Co-Conspirator'

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Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas.Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas. [Source: US Military (.com)]Terry Nichols, a 33-year-old Michigan farmer and house husband described as “aimless” by his wife Lana, joins the US Army in Detroit. He is the oldest recruit in his platoon and his fellow recruits call him “Grandpa.” During basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nichols meets fellow recruits Timothy McVeigh (see 1987-1988), who joined the Army in Buffalo, New York, and Arizona native Michael Fortier. All three share an interest in survivalism, guns, and hating the government, particularly Nichols and McVeigh; unit member Robin Littleton later recalls, “Terry and Tim in boot camp went together like magnets.” For McVeigh, Nichols is like the older brother he never had; for Nichols, he enjoys taking McVeigh under his wing. Nichols also tells McVeigh about using ammonium nitrate to make explosives he and his family used to blow up tree stumps on the farm. The three are members of what the Army calls a “Cohort,” or Cohesion Operation Readiness and Training unit, which generally keeps soldiers together in the same unit from boot camp all the way through final deployment. It is in the Army that McVeigh and Nichols become enamored of the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), which depicts a United States racially “cleansed” of minorities and other “undesirables” (McVeigh is already familiar with the novel—see 1987-1988). All three are sent to the 11 Bravo Infantry division in Fort Riley, Kansas, where they are finally separated into different companies; McVeigh goes to tank school, where he learns to operate a Bradley fighting vehicle as well as becoming an outstanding marksman. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 91-95; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh later says he joined the Army because he was disillusioned with the “I am better than you because I have more money” mindset some people have, and because he was taken with the Army’s advertisement that claimed, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] Fellow unit member Specialist Ted Thorne will later recall: “Tim and I both considered ourselves career soldiers. We were going to stay in for the 20-plus years, hopefully make sergeant major. It was the big picture of retirement.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 31]
Nichols Leaves Army, Tells of Plans to Form 'Own Military Organization' - In the spring of 1989, Nichols, who planned on making a career of military service, leaves the Army due to issues with an impending divorce and child care, but his friendship with McVeigh persists. Fellow soldier Glen Edwards will later say that he found Nichols’s choice to serve in the Army unusual, considering his virulent hatred of the US government: “He said the government made it impossible for him to make a living as a farmer. I thought it strange that a 32-year-old man would be complaining about the government, yet was now employed by the government. Nichols told me he signed up to pull his 20 years and get a retirement pension.” Before Nichols leaves, he tells Edwards that he has plans for the future, and Edwards is welcome to join in. Edwards will later recall, “He told me he would be coming back to Fort Riley to start his own military organization” with McVeigh and Fortier. “He said he could get any kind of weapon and any equipment he wanted. I can’t remember the name of his organization, but he seemed pretty serious about it.” [New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 96, 101]
McVeigh Continues Army Career, Described as 'Strange,' 'Racist,' but 'Perfect Soldier' - McVeigh does not leave the Army so quickly. He achieves the rank of sergeant and becomes something of a “model soldier.” He plans on becoming an Army Ranger. However, few get to know him well; only his closest friends, such as Nichols, know of his passion for firearms, his deep-seated racism, or his hatred for the government. McVeigh does not see Nichols during the rest of his Army stint, but keeps in touch through letters and phone calls. Friends and fellow soldiers will describe McVeigh as a man who attempts to be the “perfect soldier,” but who becomes increasingly isolated during his Army career; the New York Times will describe him as “retreating into a spit-and-polish persona that did not admit nights away from the barracks or close friendships, even though he was in a ‘Cohort’ unit that kept nearly all the personnel together from basic training through discharge.” His friends and colleagues will recall him as being “strange and uncommunicative” and “coldly robotic,” and someone who often gives the least desirable assignments to African-American subordinates, calling them “inferior” and using racial slurs. An infantryman in McVeigh’s unit, Marion “Fritz” Curnutte, will later recall: “He played the military 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of us thought it was silly. When they’d call for down time, we’d rest, and he’d throw on a ruck sack and walk around the post with it.” A fellow soldier, Todd Regier, will call McVeigh an exemplary soldier, saying: “As far as soldiering, he never did anything wrong. He was always on time. He never got into trouble. He was perfect. I thought he would stay in the Army all his life. He was always volunteering for stuff that the rest of us wouldn’t want to do, guard duties, classes on the weekend.” Sergeant Charles Johnson will later recall, “He was what we call high-speed and highly motivated.” McVeigh also subscribes to survivalist magazines and other right-wing publications, such as Guns & Ammo and his favorite, Soldier of Fortune (SoF), and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Regier will later tell a reporter: “He was real different. Kind of cold. He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was kind of almost like a robot. He never had a date when I knew him in the Army. I never saw him at a club. I never saw him drinking. He never had good friends. He was a robot. Everything was for a purpose.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 86; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is taken with the increasing number of anti-government articles and advertisements in SoF, particularly the ones warning about what it calls the impending government imposition of martial law and tyranny, and those telling readers how to build bombs and other items to use in “defending” themselves from government aggression. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 27-28] McVeigh is not entirely “by the book”; he knows his friend Michael Fortier is doing drugs, but does not report him to their superior officers. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] McVeigh is promoted to sergeant faster than his colleagues; this is when he begins assigning the undesirable tasks to the four or five black specialists in the group, tasks that would normally be performed by privates. “It was well known, pretty much throughout the platoon, that he was making the black specialists do that work,” Regier will recall. “He was a racist. When he talked he’d mention those words, like n_gger. You pretty much knew he was a racist.” The black soldiers complain to a company commander, earning McVeigh a reprimand. Sergeant Anthony Thigpen will later confirm Regier’s account, adding that McVeigh generally refuses to socialize with African-Americans, and only reluctantly takes part in company functions that include non-whites. Captain Terry Guild will later say McVeigh’s entire company has problems with racial polarization, “[a]nd his platoon had some of the most serious race problems. It was pretty bad.” In April 1989, McVeigh is sent to Germany for two weeks for a military “change-up program.” While there, he is awarded the German equivalent of the expert infantryman’s badge. In November 1989, he goes home for Thanksgiving with Fortier, and meets Fortier’s mother Irene. In late 1990, McVeigh signs a four-year reenlistment agreement with the Army. [New York Times, 5/4/1995]
McVeigh Goes on to Serve in Persian Gulf War - McVeigh will serve two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf War, serving honorably and winning medals for his service (see January - March 1991 and After). Nichols and McVeigh will later be convicted of planning and executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: Ted Thorne, Terry Guild, Todd Regier, Terry Lynn Nichols, Robin Littleton, Michael Joseph Fortier, Charles Johnson, Glen Edwards, Marion (“Fritz”) Curnutte, Anthony Thigpen, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Nichols, a Michigan farmer, anti-government white separatist, and the brother of Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), formulates a plan to use a “megabomb” to destroy an Oklahoma City federal building; an unnamed FBI informant will later tell the FBI that James Nichols specifically indicates the Murrah Federal Building. Nichols, who says he is upset over the US’s “role” in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, shares the plan with the informant, who will swear to the information in 1995, after James’s brother Terry Nichols is arrested for helping destroy the Murrah Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). “[James] Nichols… made a specific reference to a federal building in Oklahoma City and began looking through the toolshed and workbench for a newspaper clipping depicting the Oklahoma City building,” the informant will say, according to an FBI affidavit. Nichols is unable to find the newspaper clipping, the informant will say, and instead draws a diagram remarkably similar to the Murrah Building. Nichols “later located a newspaper article containing a reference to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and showed it” to the informer, the affidavit says. The informer is a regular visitor to the Nichols farm. [New York Times, 6/13/1995; Nicole Nichols, 2003] James Nichols routinely stamps US currency with red ink in a protest against the government, and calls his neighbors “sheeple” for obeying authority “like livestock.” A neighbor, Dan Stomber, will recall Nichols criticizing him and others for using drivers’ licences and Social Security cards, and for voting and paying taxes. “He said we were all puppets and sheeple,” Stomber will tell a reporter. “That was the first time I ever heard that word.” Stomber will not recall Nichols discussing any plans to bomb any federal buildings. [New York Times, 4/24/1995] After the Oklahoma City bombing, a friend of Nichols, an Indiana seed dealer named Dave Shafer, will tell authorities that Nichols showed him a diagram of a building remarkably similar to the Murrah Building, still under construction at the time, and said that building would be an excellent target. Shafer will say that he thought Nichols was joking. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 110] It is possible that Shafer and the unnamed FBI informant are the same person. Five years ago, a group of white supremacists had conceived of a plan to destroy the Murrah Building (see 1983).

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Murrah Federal Building, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dave Shafer, James Nichols, Dan Stomber

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see November 1991 - Summer 1992, May-September 1993 and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) again goes to Michigan to join his Army buddy and future co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 22 or 23, 1988, and April 2, 1992 and After). He stays with Nichols for several months, living on a farm in Decker, Michigan, owned by Nichols’s brother James Nichols (see December 22 or 23, 1988) and helping with the harvest. The two also drive around the country, buying and selling items at gun shows. Enraged by the debacle in Waco (see April 19, 1993), McVeigh and Nichols begin experimenting with explosives on James Nichols’s farm, meeting with members of the nascent Michigan Militia (see April 1994), and proposing to launch violent attacks on judges, lawyers, and police officers (see April 19, 1993 and After). McVeigh and Nichols find the militiamen too inactive for their taste. (Michigan Militia spokesmen will later claim that they ejected Nichols and his brother James from their group for their “hyperbolic language”; after the bombing, militia leader Norm Olson will say, “These people were told to leave because of that type of talk of destruction and harm and terrorism.”) Inspired by the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), McVeigh and Nichols form their own small “cell” (see February 1992), calling themselves the “Patriots.” (Some neighbors will later say that McVeigh and Nichols were not necessarily building “practice bombs” for later use, but merely amusing themselves—“mixtures of mainly household chemicals”—to relieve the boredom of farm work.) In October, they drive to Elohim City, a white supremacist compound in eastern Oklahoma (see 1973 and After), where they meet with at least one member of the Aryan Republican Army (see 1992 - 1995). A speeding ticket from December 1993 shows McVeigh makes multiple visits to the compound. During this time, Nichols and McVeigh go to a gun show in Arkansas, and briefly consider buying a house there, but instead they return to Michigan. Neighbors later recall that McVeigh and Nichols go to several meetings of the Michigan Militia (see January 1995). McVeigh begins using the alias “Tim Tuttle,” and begins buying nitromethane, a key ingredient in explosives, at hobby shops (see December 1993). [New York Times, 4/24/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 159; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003] During this time, McVeigh acquires a Michigan driver’s license. [New York Times, 4/23/1995] After the bombing, Elohim City leader Robert Millar will deny having any knowledge of McVeigh (see April 1993 and May 24, 1995).

Entity Tags: Robert Millar, Elohim City, Aryan Republican Army, James Nichols, Norman (“Norm”) Olson, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Michigan Militia

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see November 1991 - Summer 1992 and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) returns to Kingman, Arizona, where he moves in again with his Army friend Michael Fortier (see May-September 1993). During this time, McVeigh takes, and loses, a number of jobs, including a security guard position and as a clerk at a Tru-Value hardware store (see February - July 1994). (A chronology of McVeigh’s actions completed by his lawyers will say that shortly after arriving, he leaves Fortier’s home and moves into a house in Golden Valley, Arizona, about 20 miles outside of Kingman, where he lives for six months—see Early 2005. Other evidence disputes this claim.) He turns the house into a bunker, and begins experimenting with bombs and explosives. He renounces his US citizenship on March 16, begins openly speaking of his apocalyptic world views, and continues taking methamphetamines and smoking marijuana (see May-September 1993). In July, McVeigh and Fortier steal items from a National Guard armory. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 4/24/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] In April, McVeigh spends a brief period of time at the home of Roger Moore, a gun dealer in Arkansas (see March 1993). In June, he goes to upstate New York to visit his ailing grandfather. McVeigh serves as best man in the Fortiers’ July wedding. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Conflicting Stories of Problems at Residence - For a time, McVeigh lives in a Kingman, Arizona, trailer park (see May-September 1993). Residents will later tell some reporters that he was arrogant and standoffish, and full of anger against the US government. “He drank a lot of beer and threw out the cans, and I always had to pick them up,” Bob Ragin, owner of the park, will be quoted as saying. Ragin will remember having frequent quarrels with McVeigh, whom Ragin says played loud music and kept a dog in violation of his lease. “Basically he just had a poor attitude, a chip on the shoulder kind of thing,” Ragin will recall. “He was very cocky. He looked like he was ready to get in a fight pretty easy. I’ll tell you, I was a little afraid of him and I’m not afraid of too many people.… You’d tell him there were beer cans all over the yard and he’d just mumble. When I went to talk to him, I’d tell somebody, ‘If you hear fighting or windows breaking, call the police.‘… [H]e piled up so many violations, I asked him to leave. When he did, the trailer was a disaster. It was trashed.” A neighbor, Danny Bundy, later recalls, “Him and his girlfriend drove like maniacs through here.” Some reports will say McVeigh’s alleged girlfriend was pregnant. Bundy will also recall McVeigh standing at the edge of the trailer park and firing rounds from a semiautomatic weapon into the desert. In 1996, author Brandon M. Stickney will write that the characterizations of McVeigh’s troublesome behavior at the mobile home park are largely wrong. He will quote Ragin as calling McVeigh “the perfect tenant,” and will write: “These stories, published by many top news agencies like the Associated Press and the New York Times, were completely wrong. One of the sources quoted even recanted his statements. Timothy McVeigh may have been unstable, but he was never the type to drink a lot of beer, play loud music (he is known for using headphones unless he was in his car), or have a girlfriend, much less a pregnant one.” Stickney will write that McVeigh spent much of this period, not living in a rented trailer, but with the Fortiers, and later in a small rental house in Golden Valley, a claim that tallies with the chronology later created by McVeigh’s lawyers. The FBI will learn that McVeigh owned a Tec-9 semiautomatic assault weapon, which is illegal to own (see September 13, 1994) but was legal when McVeigh bought it in early 1993. Another Kingman resident, Jeff Arrowood, will recall seeing McVeigh frequent a local shooting range. Arrowood will say that McVeigh fires hundreds of rounds at random targets. “Quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me,” he will say. “He pretty much went crazy, emptying on anything—trees, rocks, anything there. He just went ballistic.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 4/24/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 152, 163-165]

Entity Tags: Bob Ragin, Danny Bundy, Associated Press, Brandon M. Stickney, Timothy James McVeigh, New York Times, Roger E. (“Bob”) Moore, Jeff Arrowood, Michael Joseph Fortier, Lori Fortier

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, conspiring with his friend Timothy McVeigh to bomb an Oklahoma City federal building (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 22 or 23, 1988, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, February - July 1994, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), sends a letter to McVeigh in Kingman, Arizona. Nichols is finalizing the purchase of a house in Herington, Kansas (see (February 20, 1995)). Nichols will later claim, falsely, that this is his last contact with McVeigh before the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed.The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed. [Source: CBS News]A truck bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in America’s worst domestic terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, has ideological roots both in the Patriot world and among neo-Nazis like William Pierce, whose novel, The Turner Diaries (see 1978), served as a blueprint for the attack. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127] Initially, many believe that no American set off the bomb, and suspect Islamist terrorists of actually carrying out the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Their suspicions prove groundless. Investigators will find that the bomb is constructed of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, carried in 20 or so blue plastic 55-gallon barrels arranged inside a rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995). The bomb is detonated by a slow-burning safety fuse, most likely lit by hand. The fuse is attached to a much faster-burning detonation cord (“det cord”) which ignites the fertilizer and fuel-oil mixture. [New York Times, 4/27/1995] The Murrah Federal Building houses a number of federal agencies, including offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Social Security Administration; the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture departments; and the Secret Service. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995] It encompasses an entire city block, between 5th and 4th Streets and Harvey and Robinson Streets, and features a U-shaped, indented drive on 5th that allows for quick pickup and delivery parking. The entire building’s facade on this side is made of glass, allowing passersby to see into the offices in the building, as well as into the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor, which by this time is filling with children. It is in this driveway that McVeigh parks his truck. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 99-102]
Entering the City - McVeigh drives into Oklahoma City, entering around 8:30 a.m. from his overnight stop in Ponca City, Oklahoma; the details reported of his entrance into the city vary (see 7:00 a.m. - 8:35 a.m., April 19, 1995). At 8:55 a.m., a security camera captures the Ryder truck as it heads towards downtown Oklahoma City [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] , a sighting bolstered by three people leaving the building who later say they saw the truck parked in front of the Murrah Building around this time. At 8:57, a security camera captures an image of McVeigh’s Ryder truck being parked outside the Murrah Building in a handicapped zone. One survivor of the blast, Marine recruiter Michael Norfleet, later recalls seeing the Ryder truck parked just outside the building next to the little circle drive on 5th Street leading up to the main entrance of the building. Norfleet had parked his black Ford Ranger in front of the Ryder.
McVeigh Lights Fuses - McVeigh drives the Ryder truck west past the Murrah Building on NW Fourth Street, turns north on a one-way street, and turns right on Fifth Street. He pulls the truck over and parks near the Firestone store, next to a chain-link fence. He then lights the five-minute fuses from inside the cab (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), sets the parking brake, drops the key behind the seat, opens the door, locks the truck, exits, and shuts the door behind him. A man later claims to have hit his brakes to avoid someone matching McVeigh’s description as he crossed Fifth Street around 9:00 a.m. McVeigh walks quickly toward a nearby YMCA building where he has hidden his getaway car, a battered yellow Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995), in the adjoining alleyway, crossing Robinson Street and crossing another street to get to the alleyway. He begins to jog as he approaches his car. He later says he remembers a woman looking at him as she is walking down the steps to enter the building; he will describe her as white, in her mid-30s, with dirty blonde hair. According to McVeigh’s own recollection, he is about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb goes off. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 184-185; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 158; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Truck Explodes - At 9:02 a.m., the truck explodes, destroying most of the Murrah Building and seriously damaging many nearby buildings. Eventually, it will be determined that 168 people die in the blast, including 19 children. Over 500 are injured. The children are in the second-story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh leaves the Ryder truck. McVeigh will later tell his biographers that he is lifted off his feet by the power of the blast.
Devastation and Death - When the bomb detonates, the day care center and the children plummet into the basement. The building, constructed with large glass windows, collapses, sending a wave of flying glass shards and debris into the building and the surrounding area. The oldest victim is 73-year-old Charles Hurlbert, who has come to the Social Security office on the first floor. Hurlbert’s wife Jean, 67, also dies in the blast. The youngest victim is four-month-old Gabeon Bruce, whose mother is also in the Social Security office. One victim, Rebecca Anderson, is a nurse who runs towards the building to render assistance. She never makes it to the building; she is struck in the head by a piece of falling debris and will die in a hospital four days after the blast. Her heart and kidneys will be transplanted into survivors of the bombing. [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 153-154; Oklahoma City Journal Record, 3/29/2001] Sherri Sparks, who has friends still unaccounted for in the building, tells a reporter in the hours after the blast, “Oh, I can’t stand the thought of… those innocent children, sitting there playing, thinking they’re safe, and then this happens.” The explosion leaves a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street that is covered by the wreckage of the building’s upper floors. The north face of the nine-story building collapses entirely. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Mary Heath, a psychologist who works about 20 blocks from the Murrah Building, says the blast “shook the daylights out of things—it scared us to death. We felt the windows shake before we heard the noise.” In a neighboring building, a Water Resources Board meeting is just commencing; the audiotape of the meeting captures the sound of the blast (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Norfleet, trapped in the Marine Corps office, is thrown into a wall by the explosion. His skull is fractured, and a shard of glass punctures his right eye. Three separate arteries are pierced, and Norfleet begins bleeding heavily. Two supply sergeants in the office are far less injured; Norfleet asks one, “How bad am I hurt?” and one replies, “Sir, you look really bad.” One of the two begins giving Norfleet first aid; Norfleet later recalls: “He immediately went into combat mode and started taking care of me. He laid me on a table and he started looking for bandages to administer first aid. And while I was laying on that table, I just knew that I was losing strength and that if I stayed in the building, I would die.” Norfleet wraps a shirt around his head and face to slow the bleeding, and the two sergeants help him to the stairs, through the fallen rubble, and eventually out. Norfleet will later say that he follows “a blood trail of somebody that had gone down the steps before me” to get outside, where he is quickly put into an ambulance. He loses almost half his body’s blood supply and his right eye. He will never fly again, and will soon be discharged for medical incapacity. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 161-162] Eighteen-month-old Phillip Allen, called “P.J.” by his parents, miraculously survives the blast. The floor gives way beneath him and he plunges 18 feet to land on the stomach of an adult worker on the floor below, Calvin Johnson. Landing on Johnson’s stomach saves P.J.‘s life. Johnson is knocked unconscious by the blast and by the impact of the little boy falling on him, but when he awakes, he carries the toddler to safety. P.J.‘s grandfather calls the child “Oklahoma’s miracle kid,” and media reports use the label when retelling the story of the miraculous rescue. P.J. is one of six children in the day care center to survive the blast. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 275-277] Some people later report their belief that the Murrah Building was rocked by a second explosion just moments after the first one, the second coming from a secure area managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that illegally stored explosives. Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later write, “Both seismic evidence and witness testimony supports the ‘two blast theory.’” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] That theory is later disputed (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Explosion's Effects Felt Miles Away - Buildings near the Murrah are also damaged, seven severely, including the Journal Record newspaper building, the offices of Southwestern Bell, the Water Resources Board, an Athenian restaurant, the YMCA, a post office building, and the Regency Tower Hotel. Two Water Resources Board employees and a restaurant worker are killed in the blast. The Journal Record building loses its roof. Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen later recalls, “The entire block looked like something out of war-torn Bosnia.” Every building within four blocks of the Murrah suffers some effects. A United Parcel Service truck 10 miles away has its windows shattered by the blast. Cars in parking lots around the area catch fire and burn. Millions of sheets of paper, and an innumerable number of glass shards, shower down for hundreds of feet around the building. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 28-30]
Truck Axle Crushes Nearby Car - Richard Nichols (no relation to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols), a maintenance worker standing with his wife a block and a half away from the Murrah Building, is spun around by the force of the blast. They throw open the back door of their car and begin taking their young nephew Chad Nichols out of the back seat, when Richard sees a large shaft of metal hurtling towards them. The “humongous object… spinning like a boomerang,” as Richard later describes it, hits the front of their Ford Festiva, smashing the windshield, crushing the front end, driving the rear end high into the air, and sending the entire car spinning backwards about 10 feet. Chad is not seriously injured. The metal shaft is the rear axle of the Ryder truck. Later, investigators determine that it weighs 250 pounds and was blown 575 feet from where the truck was parked. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) points out the axle to reporters when he walks the scene a day or so later, causing some media outlets to incorrectly report that Keating “discovered” the axle. The scene will take investigators days to process for evidence. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 32; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187-189]
First Responders Begin Arriving - Within minutes, survivors begin evacuating the building, and first responders appear on the scene (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh's Getaway - McVeigh flees the bomb site in his Mercury getaway car (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995), but is captured less than 90 minutes later (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995).

Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, November 5, 1994, and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995), having turned himself into the local police in Herington, Kansas (see 2:00 p.m. and After, April 21, 1995), is interrogated for nine hours by federal authorities and consents to have his home and truck searched (see Evening, April 21, 1995 and After). [Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Nine-Hour Interrogation, No Recording Made - Starting around 3:15 p.m., FBI agents interrogate Nichols for over nine hours. Nichols agrees to speak without a lawyer present. The agents do not record the interview, instead making handwritten notes on it. Preliminary questions include verification of his Social Security number (which he says he never uses because he does not believe in having a federal government number; he also says he does not pay federal taxes (see March 16, 1994)) and his job (self-employed dealer of military surplus). They then ask him when he heard that he might have been involved in the bombing. Nichols says he only heard of his alleged involvement earlier in the day. He says he knew bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh during their stint in the Army (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990). He says that he saw the sketches of the two bombing suspects (see April 20, 1995), but does not believe the sketch of “No. 1” looks like McVeigh. He explains that once he heard about his being a suspect, he decided to go directly to the local police instead of federal agents, because “I didn’t want another Waco” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Apparently Nichols means he did not want to become involved in an armed standoff with police and FBI agents. He says he realized he was being followed when he pulled into the Surplus City parking lot, and came directly to the police station. Agents Stephen E. Smith and Scott Crabtree then begin asking him about his brother James, and he gives some information about his earlier life in Decker on his brother’s farm, and notes that McVeigh had lived with them for a time (see Summer 1992 and October 12, 1993 - January 1994). At this point, around 3:30 p.m., the agents inform him that he is not a suspect, but a witness. Nevertheless they ask him to read aloud a form titled “Interrogation; Advice of Rights,” that sets forth his rights to have a lawyer present or to remain silent. He refuses to sign the form. Smith will later testify, “He said the word ‘interrogation’ sounded like the Nazis.” The US Attorney for Kansas, Randall K. Rathbun, tells reporters, “He refused to sign the form, indicating that since it dealt with interrogation, he said that was a word that reminded him of Nazi Germany and he refused to sign the form dealing with his rights.” From Washington, lead FBI counsel Howard Shapiro advises the agents that they need to secure Nichols’s oral acknowledgment that he is waiving his rights to legal representation, and advise him again that he is free to go. Shapiro adds that if Nichols does leave, the agents should follow him and arrest him once a warrant for his detention as a material witness is available. Nichols waives his rights to a lawyer and agrees to continue speaking. Shapiro advises the agents not to tell Nichols about the warrant for his arrest being prepared, as it may discourage him from talking. [New York Times, 5/11/1995; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 203-205] He signs a Consent to Search form allowing agents to search his home and pickup truck, though his lawyers will later claim he believes his wife will be allowed to be present during the search. He says repeatedly that he hopes the agents searching his home can tell the difference between cleaning solvents and bomb components: “There is nothing in my house or truck that could be construed as bomb-making materials,” he says. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 205]
Denies Knowledge of Bombing - Nichols denies any foreknowledge of McVeigh’s bombing, saying merely that McVeigh had told him “something big” was in the offing (see April 15, 1995). He tells his questioners that the first he heard of the bombing was while watching a television demonstration at the Home Cable Television sales outlet in Herington. The agents ask him when he last had contact with McVeigh. According to Nichols, he sent McVeigh a letter in February 1995, asking McVeigh if the next time he was in Las Vegas, he could pick up an old television set from his ex-wife Lana Padilla; Nichols says he wanted the television set for when his son Joshua visited.
Tells of Long Easter Trip to Oklahoma City, Junction City for Television - On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 16, Nichols says, McVeigh called and asked him to come to Oklahoma City to pick up the television set (see April 16-17, 1995). “I’m pressed for time to get back east” to his family in New York, Nichols says McVeigh told him. “If you want your television, you’ll have to come to Oklahoma City.” Although Oklahoma City is some 250 miles away, Nichols agreed to make the trip. He also agreed to tell his wife that he was going to Omaha, not Oklahoma City, at McVeigh’s request. Nichols explains: “He [McVeigh] has a private nature. He has told me that no one is to know his business. Some of the things he wanted kept private were trivial matters. He just doesn’t want people to know what he is doing. That is just his nature.” Nichols tells the agents that before Easter, he had last heard from McVeigh in November 1994 or perhaps early 1995 (see February 20, 1995 and April 11, 1995). He then says: “In my eyes, I did not do anything wrong but I can see how lawyers can turn stuff around. I did not know anything. Lawyers can turn stuff around.” He denies ever seeing McVeigh at any motel in Junction City, Kansas (see September 22, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, and (February 20, 1995)), says he has no knowledge of McVeigh renting a Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995, April 16-17, 1995, Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), and was never asked by McVeigh to buy any materials related to making bombs (see September 13, 1994, September 22, 1994, September 30, 1994, October 3, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, October 18, 1994, October 20, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, October 29-30, 1994, November 5, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, November 7, 1994, November 9, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, January 31 - February 12, 1995, February 20, 1995, March 1995, March 17, 1995, April 5-10, 1995, April 15-16, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). He says he drove to Oklahoma City and picked up McVeigh near the Murrah Federal Building (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh loaded the television into the pickup, Nichols says, along with a green duffel bag. They then headed towards Junction City. Nichols says he met McVeigh in an alleyway and never saw McVeigh’s car, which he says McVeigh claimed was broken down. Asked what they talked about, Nichols responds, “McVeigh talked in code.” He only later understood what his friend meant when he said “something big” was going to happen; he claims that he thought McVeigh was talking about robbing a bank. The conversation then turned to the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), and McVeigh said he was interested in a protest rally for April 19 in Washington, DC. Nichols says he does not know why McVeigh wanted to go to Junction City. Maybe McVeigh had another car there, Nichols speculates. He let McVeigh off in Junction City, ate by himself at a Denny’s restaurant, and made the short drive home.
Second Trip to Junction City - On Tuesday, April 18, Nichols says, McVeigh called him around 6 a.m. and asked to borrow his pickup. Nichols says he met McVeigh in Junction City, and spent the morning at a military surplus auction while McVeigh used the truck. When they met up again in the early afternoon, all McVeigh had, Nichols says, was his green duffel bag. Explaining why McVeigh had had the truck for hours and brought back no items, Nichols explains, “Tim lives and travels light.” He then tells of picking up items from a storage locker McVeigh has rented (see April 20, 1995), and says that was the last time he saw McVeigh. The agents would find some of McVeigh’s belongings in his garage: a sleeping bag, rucksack, and rifle. [New York Times, 5/11/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 205-208; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Morning's Events - Nichols says he spoke to his ex-wife Lana Padilla earlier that day, angering his wife Marife, who announced she wanted to go back to the Philippines. “I’ve got friends there,” he says she told him. “I don’t have friends here. You got friends like Tim.” Marife does not like McVeigh, Nichols says, complaining that he lives his life “on the edge” and drives too fast. As for his conversation with Padilla, Nichols says she asked him about $3,000 he had apparently given her for their son Joshua. Investigators will later speculate that the money came from a robbery Nichols perpetrated in order to fund the bombing (see November 5, 1994). He says he went to a local lumberyard, then came back home.
Turning Up the Heat on Nichols - Nichols and Marife watched a few minutes of television together, and that was when they saw news reports identifying McVeigh as a suspect in the bombing. “I thought and swore that I could not believe it was him because he was heading back to see his family!” he says. “And he was back there in Oklahoma City? When I heard his name on TV, that is when I figured out why my name was on the radio, because I was his friend.… I was feeling shock, because I heard my name. How am I involved? How am I connected to it? I must not have known him that well for him to do that.” Nichols says he and McVeigh had become somewhat estranged, in part because McVeigh did not like Nichols’s penchant for practical jokes. The agents lean in and begin demanding to know if McVeigh executed the bombing, and if Nichols had any role in it. It is apparent they do not believe Nichols’s stories. Nichols, talking fast, says: “I feel upset that I’m involved, in a sense, because of him, and knowing that I am not.… I feel I cannot trust anyone any more than Tim. I would be shocked if he implicated me. Tim takes responsibility for his actions, and he lives up to his arrangements.… I cannot see why he would do it.” The agents ease off for a bit, and ask Nichols about his recent fertilizer purchases. He admits buying two 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate at a Manhattan, Kansas, elevator, for which he has the receipts. He intends to sell it in one-pound bags at gun shows, to be used as fertilizer. He has already sold a few bags at earlier gun shows, he says: “If I sell any more at these shows, they will question me.” He says he spread some of the leftover fertilizer on his lawn just recently. (Investigators will later determine that the fertilizer was probably left over from the bomb-making process (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995).) He did not mention the fertilizer earlier, he says, because ammonium nitrate can be used to make an explosive compound, and “[i]t would make me look guilty to a jury.” He says he is working to build a new career as a military surplus dealer and create a peaceful life for himself and his family (see April 6, 1995). While he has worked gun shows with McVeigh in the past, he says, he does not know any of the other vendors, and though they never associated with militia members, he did recently sell 30 MREs (military “meals ready to eat”) to members of the Michigan Militia. Sometimes he heard talk about the Davidian tragedy and federal law enforcement officials at the shows, but he rarely took part in the conversations. He admits to having some anti-government feelings, and has read some of the literature, but says others got “hyped” about it and talked about taking action. McVeigh “was much more hyped about Waco,” he says. McVeigh is very knowledgeable about explosives, and is “capable” of building a bomb such as the one detonated in Oklahoma City, he says, but the agents should not assume he actually carried out the bombing. Nichols denies having specific knowledge himself of how to build a fertilizer bomb similar to that used in Oklahoma City, though he says the information is readily available. McVeigh is particularly fascinated with guns, Nichols says, and is extremely knowledgeable about them. He notes some common acquaintances, including Michael Fortier (see December 16, 1994 and After, Mid-March, 1995, April 5, 1995, and April 19, 1995 and After). whom he merely identifies by his last name and does not disclose that the three of them served in the Army together. Nichols admits to having rented a number of storage facilities in Las Vegas (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995) and in Kansas, including one in Herington (see September 22, 1994) and another in Council Grove (see October 17, 1994 and November 7, 1994), but he just uses them for storing household items, he says, along with a few guns and ammunition. After more questioning, Nichols admits that he now suspects McVeigh might well be the bomber. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 208-214] One source says that the FBI first learns of Fortier from Nichols’s 12-year-old son Joshua, who phones the bureau from his Las Vegas home and speaks with agent Debbie Calhoun about Fortier. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 183]
Break and Resumption - Everyone, including Nichols, is tired. At 6:10 p.m., they take a break, and give Nichols a glass of water and two slices of pizza. They refuse to let him see his wife. Special Agent John F. Foley sits with Nichols, and they talk casually until about 7:00 p.m. Smith and Crabtree resume the questioning, and ask Nichols to verify that the house or garage is not “booby-trapped.” He says it is not, and gives them a map of his house that indicates where guns and ammunition are stored on his property. Nichols repeats much of what he said earlier, insisting that his story about McVeigh’s borrowing his pickup truck on April 18 is factual and that he fully intends to build a new life for himself with his family. While McVeigh had grown increasingly agitated about the federal government and had become more radicalized, Nichols says, he himself just wanted to settle down. At 11:15 p.m., they play him an audiotape of his ex-wife Lana and his son Joshua urging him to cooperate. The tape upsets Nichols. Just after midnight, they hand him copies of the letters he had left at his ex-wife’s house urging McVeigh to “Go for it!” (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). Nichols says he wrote the letter to take the place of a will, worried that he might not return from the trip he took to the Philippines. During the last two hours of interrogation, a new pair of agents, Foley and Daniel L. Jablonski, begin pressuring Nichols, accusing him of lying. Nichols does not respond to the new tactics. He refuses to take a polygraph exam, and refuses to sign a form certifying that he has been advised of his Miranda rights. He ends by denying any involvement whatsoever in the bombing. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 208-214]
Wife Questioned for Six Hours - Marife Nichols is questioned for six hours (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21, 1995).
Warrants Signed - Oklahoma City’s chief federal judge, David L. Russell, is at the FBI’s command center, and after the decision is made in Washington to procure a material witness arrest warrant, Russell signs it. It is faxed to the police station in Herington at 4:46 p.m. FBI agents interrogating Nichols do not tell him that the material witness warrant is now available; lead agent Thomas A. Price will later say he did not want to interrupt the interrogation. Russell will say he is not aware that Nichols is being interviewed by the FBI, and, noting language on the warrant that says Nichols “has attempted to leave the jurisdiction of the United States,” will say that the language is “inconsistent” with Nichols’s voluntary presentation at the police station.
Public Defender Denied Access - Public defender David J. Phillips, the federal defender for Kansas, learns from television reports that Nichols is in custody and has asked for legal representation. Phillips repeatedly calls the Herington police station, but is told that no one is available to speak with him. At 9:10 p.m., he calls a federal prosecutor in Topeka and is told that Nichols is not being arrested, and that Nichols is not the “John Doe” the FBI is looking for. Price will testify that he is aware of Phillips’s attempts to contact the police, and has told Police Chief Dale Kuhn to write down Phillips’s number. “[I]f Nichols asked for counsel, we’d provide the number,” Price will testify. Phillips will represent Nichols beginning April 22. [New York Times, 7/2/1996]
Possible Militia Affiliation - The FBI says it has reason to believe Nichols is a member of the Michigan Militia (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994); spokesmen for the Michigan Militia say Nichols is not a member and their group has no connection to the bombing [New York Times, 4/22/1995] , though a relative says that both brothers are indeed members of the group. A neighbor of Nichols, Randy Izydorek, tells a reporter that Nichols is proud of his affiliation with groups such as the Michigan Militia. “He told me it’s nationwide and it’s growing,” Izydorek says. [New York Times, 4/23/1995] (Militia spokesmen have said the group ejected Nichols and his brother James for “hyperbolic language,” apparently referring to calls for violence.) [New York Times, 4/24/1995]
Nichols Arrested and Jailed, Admits to Using Aliases - Shortly after midnight, the agents formally serve the warrant on Nichols and arrest him. At 12:24 a.m., Nichols is incarcerated in Abilene, Kansas. The afternoon of April 22, he is transferred to a jail in Wichita, Kansas, in the custody of Smith and Crabtree, where he will make his initial court appearance. Nichols continues to talk; during the drive, he admits to using a number of aliases, including Ken Parker (see October 17, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, and November 7, 1994) and Jim Kyle (see October 17, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, November 5, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, and January 31 - February 12, 1995). McVeigh, he says, often used aliases such as Shawn Rivers (see September 22, 1994 and October 1994) and Tim Tuttle (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, November 22, 1993, December 1993, February - July 1994, and November 30, 1994). McVeigh liked to use aliases, he says, and Nichols went along with the practice. “But we parted ways last fall,” he says. “The way we both live did not jive.” His brother James always “got along well” with McVeigh, he says. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 215]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Debbie Calhoun, David L. Russell, Scott Crabtree, Thomas A. Price, Timothy James McVeigh, Dale Kuhn, Ronald G. Woods, David J. Phillips, Daniel L. Jablonski, Randy Izydorek, Stephen E. Smith, Nicole Nichols, Howard Shapiro, Randall K. Rathbun, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Nichols, Joshua Nichols, John F. Foley, Michigan Militia, Lana Padilla, Michael Joseph Fortier, Marife Torres Nichols, Murrah Federal Building

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Terry Nichols, a suspected accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995) currently jailed in Wichita, Kansas, tells a jailer he wants a different book than the one he has been given to read. This book, he says, has a story “about an innocent man who is charged with murder, two counts, and it took him 14 years to get out of prison.” The guard replies, “Is that right?” and Nichols says, “I guess you really don’t know what your friends will do.” Nichols is apparently referring to suspected bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 21, 1995). When the guard asks him who he is talking about, Nichols replies: “I’m talking about some of my friends, my friends. We were good friends. For five years… but it looks like… maybe he did it. And I think I may have… I may have accidentally helped him in doing it” (see September 13, 1994, September 22, 1994, September 30, 1994, October 3, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, October 18, 1994, October 20, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, October 29-30, 1994, November 5, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, November 7, 1994, November 9, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, January 31 - February 12, 1995, February 20, 1995, March 1995, March 17, 1995, April 5-10, 1995, April 15-16, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). The guard will file a report on the conversation, and add the following: “His last few words appeared to have been very hard for him to say. I believe he wiped a tear from his right eye.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 216]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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