Return to Transcripts main page


Oklahoma City Bombing

Aired August 18, 2013 - 20:00   ET


NARRATOR: Oklahoma City lies at the geographic heart of the country. More small town than big city. It's probably the last place you'd pick to be targeted for destruction. Then came the morning of April 19th, 1995.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning. In this proceeding with regard to application 95-501 for a ground (INAUDIBLE) permit. We'll present evidence, hear evidence from the applicant. With regard to this proceeding there are four elements that I have to receive information regarding.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Smoke and debris, and fire on the ground. We'll have to beg around the other side so I can get a better view of it. Wow. Holy cow. About one-third of the building has been blown away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was staggering the potential casualties and deaths. And I remember saying, god, I don't want to die today.

NARRATOR: It was a terrifying attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was so hoping that it was not an American.

NARRATOR: That left an entire nation disillusioned.

BILL CLINTON, U.S. PRESIDENT: It was an act of cowardice and it was evil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a game changer.

NARRATOR: It remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history perpetrated by one of our own. A decorated army veteran of the first gulf war.

The Oklahoma City bombing next.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: OK. I'm ready. OK. Let's go. Can you see thick black smoke billowing from the federal court building downtown.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We are seeing literally dozens of people that are bleeding. Some of them you can't even make them out. They are so badly injured.

NARRATOR: The impact was immediate and nationwide.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: An explosion in Oklahoma City with worldwide implications and enormous consequences.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The bombing has sent shock waves through Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There is increased security nationwide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Pentagon has activated its emergency disaster response.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It could be a contractor. It could be a wacko. It could be a professional. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to create this kind of bomb.

NARRATOR: As the smoke began to clear, two questions reverberated across the country. Who and why? The answers would be shocking. The man behind the devastation was an American. His name? Timothy McVeigh.

Tim McVeigh was one of ours. He was a war hero. He grew up in the suburbs of buffalo, and we needed to know. There's a sense, an obligation to find out who this man was.

Timothy McVeigh was born on April 23rd, 1968, in the town of Lockport in upstate New York. By all accounts, he had an ordinary childhood and adolescence.

We were never told anything that would have give you warning that he was going do something like this. In fact, as a teenager, he was the young man that people in the neighborhood would choose to babysit their kids.

He was a good student. He was bright. Above average intelligence. Sometimes you look at the history of severe criminal conduct and there is childhood abuse or abandonment, and you can see how someone developed into it. Nothing striking in McVeigh's background.

But the young McVeigh did have a dark side. While still a teenager, he had discovered the turner diaries, a venomously racist novel about an armed insurrection led by white supremacists against an oppressive federal government.

It described a truck bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. shortly after 9:00 in the morning, sounding very similar to what took place in Oklahoma city on April 19th, 1995.

LOU MICHEL, REPORTER, BUFFALO NEWS: Tim McVeigh was one of ours. He was a war hero. He grew up in the suburbs of Buffalo. And we needed to know. It was a sense, an obligation to find out who this man was.

NARRATOR: Timothy McVeigh was born on April 23rd, 1968, in the town of Lockport in Upstate New York. By all accounts he had an ordinary childhood and adolescence.

DAN HERBECK, REPORTER, BUFFALO NEWS: We were never told anything that would have gave you warning that he was going to do something like this. In fact as a teenager, he was the young man that people in the neighborhood would choose to baby-sit their kids.

DR. PHILLIP RESNICK, UH CASE MEDICAL CENTER: He was a good student, he was bright. Above average intelligence. Sometimes you look at the history of severe criminal conduct and there is childhood abuse or abandonment and you can see how someone can develop into it. Nothing striking in McVeigh's background.

NARRATOR: But the young McVeigh did have a dark side. While still a teenager, he had discovered the "Turner Diaries," a venomously racist novel about an armed insurrection led by white supremacists against an oppressive federal government.

BRIAN LEVIN, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF HATE AND EXTREMISM: It described a truck bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. shortly after 9:00 in the morning, sounding very similar to what took place in Oklahoma City on April 19th, 1995.

NARRATOR: If Timothy McVeigh was looking to make a statement then he had succeed in the worst way possible.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Debris, blast. It looks as though emergency crews are on the scene.

NARRATOR: The incredible explosion that ripped apart the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building hit with the force of roughly two tons of TNT. The air inside was whipped into a churning tornado of glass shards and choking black smoke. One floor pancaked on to the next crushing and trapping men, women, and children below.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The roof has collapsed.

NARRATOR: The second floor held a daycare center. The lucky ones staggered into the street. Some barely alive.



DENNIS PURIFDY, SURVIVOR, SOCIAL SECURITY OFFICE: I saw a yellow flash, and then everything went pitch black.

CAROL BERANEK, SURVIVOR, HEAD OFFICE: The force of the blast bent me over my desk.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The whole back of the building just fell in on us. Everyone along our set of offices had back injuries, head injuries, neck, bleeding, glass.

BERANEK: I felt pain on my left side of my face and popping noises, and it was the glass shards.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just kept falling. It was a horrible noise, horrible noise.

DR. PAUL HEATH, SURVIVOR, VA DEPT., VETERANS AFFAIRS: And I remember saying, god, I don't want to die today, and I don't want to die in this building. If it's all right with you, I would like to die later.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Felt like an earthquake. Something actually shook our television station. That's five miles away.

NARRATOR: In those first frantic minutes no one was quite sure what had caused the explosion.

PURIFDY: Initially we thought it might have been a gas explosion because we had to evacuate the office two, three weeks earlier because there was a gas leak downtown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought that a war had started. I thought that Oklahoma City had been bombed, that we had been attacked by another country.

BERANEK: I thought that the explosion was an atomic blast from Tinker Air Force Base.

HEATH: I was trying to make sense out of it. I did not think it was a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They have dog teams here searching for survivors and for bodies.

NARRATOR: Scores of people have been killed outright and hundreds more injured. The blast radius encompasses a 16-block area, but the Murrah building is ground zero.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was headquartered there. And some of its members are still missing.

BOB RICKS, SAC, FBI (RET.): Social Security was located there. A child care center was located there. Initial estimates that were coming in was that there had been perhaps 1,000 people. It was staggering the potential casualties and deaths that could have been caused by this bombing.

Everything around the building was still on fire. Cars across the street were on fire. The trees that were there were on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: People at this hour are literally trapped in the Alfred Murrah Building in downtown Oklahoma City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody, get back.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They have found a bomb in the building.

NARRATOR: Ninety minutes after the blast, a new panic radiates through the streets. When first responders come across what appears to be a second bomb, the rescue operation is suspended and a four- block area is quickly evacuated.

It is thankfully a false alarm. But precious moments have been lost. By the time the rescue resumes, investigators have swarmed the area. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: First question has been answered. Was this just a freak accidental explosion of some kind? Or was it intentional? We know now.

NARRATOR: It is quickly determined that the explosion at the federal building was caused by a truck bomb.

BARRY BLACK, FBI MASTER BOMB TECHNICIAN: There are certain things you can look for, particularly in the case of a large vehicle bomb. There was roughly a 32-foot crater in the street. It appeared to be just about dead center of the block.

NARRATOR: Then investigators get their first big break. They learned that a rear axle housing that probably came from the truck bomb has landed around 200 yards from the bomb site.

RICHARD NICHOLS, WITNESS AND SURVIVOR, REGENCY TOWER: I heard something coming through the air, and I looked up. And you see this big object coming straight towards us, and when it hit the car, it knocked it back to these other sets of doors back here, and I look in front of my car, and there was that axle in there, and I thought to -- I told my wife, honey, it's a car bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Early indications are the bomb was a half-ton homemade bomb that was made of common fertilizer and fuel oil.

NARRATOR: Fortunately, the axle housing contains the truck's confidential vehicle identification number.

BLACK: Using that number we are able to trace the vehicle itself and identify it as a Ford motor product that had been made for Ryder Rental Company.

NARRATOR: The Ryder Company informs the FBI that this particular truck had been assigned to Elliott's Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas. More than 270 miles north of Oklahoma City. FBI agents discover that the truck had been rented two days earlier.

RICKS: The rental documents themselves showed that it had been rented by a Robert Bob Kling. We had no idea who Robert Kling was or whether he was a real person.

NARRATOR: An employee provides a detailed description of Kling and another man he believed was with him.

Who was Robert Kling, and why had he just murdered nearly 200 men, women, and children? Within 24 hours the nation would learn the stunning truth.

CLINTON: Let there be no room for doubt. We will find the people who did this.


NARRATOR: It's one of the most terrifying days in American history.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just devastated. Smoke and debris and fire on the ground. There are numerous injuries.

NARRATOR: The human toll is overwhelming. 168 people killed. At least 650 injured. Among the dead are 19 children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's very little hope for those that are left in that building.

LEVIN: The Oklahoma City bombing will go down in history as one of those elemental moments that people will remember where they were at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is a grizzly, meticulous search effort to find bodies.

NARRATOR: Less than 90 minutes from the blast, about 75 miles north of Oklahoma City, State Trooper Charlie Hanger stops a 1977 Mercury Marquee for not having a license plate. The driver of the car is one Timothy James McVeigh.

CHARLIE HANGER, FORMER STATE TROOPER: When he got out of the car, he looked a clean-cut young man that man that had a military type appearance, had a short haircut. He also had a light windbreaker jacket on, and it was zipped up just slightly, but as he was removing his bill fold from his pocket that, jacket tightened up. And I could see a bulge under his left arm that appeared to me to be a weapon, and I grabbed the bulge on the outside of his jacket and instructed him to, you know, get his hands up, turn around.

At the same time I was drawing my weapon and stuck it to the back of his head. He said my weapon is loaded. And I nudged him a little bit with the barrel of my weapon. I said, well, so is mine.

NARRATOR: Hanger arrests McVeigh for carrying a concealed weapon. Never imagining that his prisoner is the Oklahoma City bomber.

Initially the name McVeigh means nothing to bombing investigators. They're looking for Robert Kling, the man who rented the Ryder truck in Junction City, Kansas.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It seems hard to believe that all this destruction was the work of only two men.

NARRATOR: The next day, armed with sketches of Kling and a suspected companion, law enforcement officers canvas the entire area.

RICKS: One agent was assigned the Dreamland Motel, and when he walked in, he talked to the owner of that particular place, and he asked her, has anyone been in here that had a Ryder truck with him? And she said actually there was here recently. So the agent decided to show her the artist conception. And she looked at it and said that really looks like the fellow who rented room 25.

BLACK: He had rented the room in the name of Tim McVeigh. The Ryder rental truck had been rented in the name of Robert Kling so there was some question as to which was the true name, if either were a true name. RICKS: So we do a record search through our National Crime Information Center to see if any Timothy McVeighs had been arrested anywhere in the United States recently. And to our surprise we learned that Timothy McVeigh has been arrested in Noble County, which is about 75 miles north of Oklahoma City and was arrested the morning of the bombing.

It turned out that he was still there but he was getting ready to be released on bail. But we put a hold on him until our agents could get there to interview him.

Was this the same Timothy McVeigh that's at the Dreamland Motel? At this point we don't necessarily know. Our agents tried to interview Timothy McVeigh. When they approached him, they asked him, do you know what we're here for? He said probably about that Oklahoma City thing. And he gave us his name, rank, and serial number, and refused to talk to us anymore.

NARRATOR: In Washington Attorney General Janet Reno announces the arrest.

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am pleased to announce that one of the individuals believed to be responsible for Wednesday's terrible attack has been arrested. I remind everyone that John Doe number two remains at large.

NARRATOR: When McVeigh is transported to Oklahoma City, he is met by an angry crowd and screams of baby killer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it the act of someone who wishes the United States government and its entire environs ill?

BERANEK: I was so hoping that it wasn't an American. It's hard to believe Americans blowing up Americans. It just boggled my mind.

MICHEL: What Tim McVeigh did was the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The entire country was shocked and riveted that somebody could come from white bread suburbia and commit such a hellacious act.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a daughter. It's strange to think that she'll grow up in this is scary.

NARRATOR: Investigators are certain that McVeigh is the John Doe number one in the police sketch, but they still have not identified John Doe number two.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: John Doe number two. If the FBI can't find him, does he exist?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: FBI chief Luis Freeh sent him this message. "There is no place on earth where you will be safe."

NARRATOR: The Michigan address on McVeigh's driver's license is the home of a man named James Nichols. It's a critical development. Nichols' brother, Terry, has been close friends with McVeigh since they served together in the Army. Like McVeigh, Nichols is known to harbor anti-government views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Terry Nichols, just four days before the blast, took out a new insurance policy on his pickup truck.

NARRATOR: An arrest warrant is quickly issued. And later that same day Nichols turns himself in.

By now the rescue operation at the Murrah Building has become a recovery effort.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Authorities in this building behind me are coming across more bodies.

NARRATOR: The search for bodies will last for two full weeks.

PURIFDY: Most of the survivors wanted to go to most of the funerals, and that's tough going to 16 funerals. Let me tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two women are believed to be still in the building with (INAUDIBLE) elderly man.

NARRATOR: Finally on May 5th, 1995, with three victims still buried in the rubble, the search comes to an end.

HANK GIBBONS, CHIEF DIVISION COUNSEL, FBI (RET.): This was not two or three people from this city or two or three people from that city. This was Oklahoma City. The terrorism was directed at the city. The terrorism was directed at its people.

It was the sort of heart of Oklahoma City.


NARRATOR: On April 2 1st, 1999, Timothy McVeigh is arrested and charged with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma attorney Stephen Jones is appointed as McVeigh's public defender. Jones immediately rejects the possibility of an insanity defense.

STEPHEN JONES, MCVEIGH'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Timothy McVeigh was not insane. He was rationale. He was interviewed by several psychologists and psychiatrists, and he didn't have any obvious mental disorder or emotional disorder.

RESNICK: The question comes up, why is a non-mentally ill individual going to conduct a bomb which killed hundreds of people.

HERBECK: I don't want people to misread, but I'm about to say but I was surprised at how affable and likable he appeared to be for a man who had killed 168 people in cold blood.

NARRATOR: Reporters Dan Herbeck and Lou Michel spent more than 70 hours interviewing McVeigh trying to gain some insight into what led him to be a domestic terrorist.

By all accounts an early turning point for McVeigh comes in 1988 when he joins the Army. While stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, he and his roommate, Michael Fortier, bond with their platoon leader Terry Nichols over a shared distrust of the federal government.

HERBECK: McVeigh took an instant liking to him, and he loved hearing Nichols spout off about his theories about government and politics.

NARRATOR: McVeigh serves during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, and is awarded a Bronze Star for valor. During his service he kills at least two enemy combatants.

KERRY KLING, SERVED IN THE ARMY WITH MCVEIGH: One thing he did brag me about was in Saudi Arabia when he was in the war he was a gunner out of Bradley, and he told me one time about when he was shooting at an Iraqi bunker, and a guy came out and was waving his hands trying to surrender and stuff, and McVeigh started shooting at him with 25 millimeter and started shooting him, he said it was 1100 meters, and the first round hit the guy in the head.

NARRATOR: After returning from the war, McVeigh hopes to join the Special Forces, but quits because he is physically unprepared.

MICHEL: One of McVeigh's goals early on in entering the Army was Special Forces. When it didn't work out for him with the Special Forces, he lost his focus.

NARRATOR: McVeigh is discharged from the Army on December 31st, 1991. He begins to drift around the country taking odd jobs and attending gun shows.

HERBECK: He was totally against any kind of gun control. He was totally in favor of government leaving people alone, letting them do what they want to do.

LEVIN: His trust of a large central government goes back to our independence. It's written into our Constitution. The problem is when it's taken to its extremes, and Timothy McVeigh was the extreme of that ideology.

NARRATOR: But he doesn't seem to be destructive until two tragic events in the early 1990s incite McVeigh to embrace violence. In August 1992 deputy U.S. Marshals and FBI agents are involved in a deadly confrontation in northern Idaho with an alleged white supremacist named Randy Weaver.

Weaver is suspected of selling illegal firearms. During an 11-day standoff Weaver's son, his wife, and a deputy U.S. Marshal are killed. Then on February 28th, 1993, following a gun battle between the ATF and members of a religious group called the Branch Davidians, federal agents lay siege to the group's compound near Waco, Texas.

A suspected cache of illegal weapons is at the center of the controversy.

HERBECK: McVeigh was just absolutely in a rage over both of those incidents, but the one thing that pushed him over the edge and turned him into a terrorist was the Waco incident. NARRATOR: At one point McVeigh drives to Waco to observe the siege.

HERBECK: He went and parked his car nearby and he was selling anti- government pamphlets, giving interviews to at least one reporter back then about how much he distrusted the U.S. government.

NARRATOR: During an assault by the FBI on April 19th, the Branch Davidian compound is engulfed by fire. At least 76 men, women, and children die during the inferno.

HERBECK: McVeigh told us that he was convinced that the U.S. government purposefully murdered women and children at the Waco compound. It was all part of an effort to destroy gun rights in America.

ERROLL SOUTHERS, AUTHOR, HOMEGROWN VIOLENT EXTREMISM: The triggering moment was Waco. He was there and he decided that the government had gone too far.

LEVIN: He was going to start his own war.

NARRATOR: And the first strike would be aimed at the heart of the country. For McVeigh and his Army buddy Terry Nichols, targeting a government building was dramatic and symbolic. They chose the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, which housed 14 federal agencies, including the Secret Service, the DEA, and the ATF. LEVIN: McVeigh believed that his bombing would be the opening salvo in a conflict against an illegitimate tyrannical federal government that needed to be brought down to its knees.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm Don Lemon in New York.

Breaking news, it's happening in Rhode Island. Police have been searching all day long for a little boy just 2 years old who vanished from a house where two people were killed. The news just in to CNN the little boy has been found and he is safe.

Here's where it all started today. Police issued an AMBER alert for 2-year-old Isiah Perez in Johnston, Rhode Island. That's where police say somebody committed a double homicide. Isiah lived in that house.

A wide search immediately began for the man, this man that you see right here, in just a moment, his name is Malcolm Croell. He and another man were arrested this evening in Massachusetts.

We just found out that police found Isiah wandering the streets of Providence, Rhode Island, about six miles from the home where he was last seen, so the AMBER alert is now called off. The little boy is safe.

More details as we get them. Make sure you stay tuned tomorrow morning for "NEW DAY" here on CNN and "EARLY START" as well.

I'm Don Lemon in New York. "CRIMES OF THE CENTURY" continues right after a quick break.


NARRATOR: On August 10, 1995, a federal grand jury charges Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols with 11 criminal counts, including eight counts of murder. That figure is based upon the number of federal law enforcement officials killed in the blast.

On April 24th, 1997, two years after the bombing McVeigh's trial begins in Denver, Colorado. The prosecution presents first and lays out a timeline of events that led up to the bombing. By mid-1994 McVeigh and Nichols, along with their Army friend Michael Fortier, were ready to put their plan into action.

McVeigh decided that the most effective weapon would be a truck bomb. In September 1994 McVeigh and Nichols begin stockpiling ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer often used in truck bombs.

BLACK: You can buy ammonium nitrate which is the oxidizer with a fuel and then you have an explosive mixture. It's cheap, it's readily available, and it's not particularly complicated to make.

NARRATOR: Over the next few months the two men start quietly gathering more components, including racing fuel, explosive charges, and 544 blasting caps they steal from a quarry in Marion, Kansas. Then that December McVeigh and Michael Fortier go to Oklahoma City to case the Murrah building.

RICKS: We know for certain that McVeigh examined multiple federal buildings. He, in particular, scouted out the Murrah building on multiple occasions. We know that because he took Michael Fortier directly to the Murrah building and said that after his examination of all the potential targets, this is the one he was going to hit.

NARRATOR: McVeigh picks April 19th as the date. Known as Patriots Day, it's revered by many in the right-wing anti-government movement.

SOUTHERS: By April 19 you have the first shots fired at Lexington in the American Revolution. On that day Waco occurs in 1993 and then two years later McVeigh blows up his truck bomb in front of the Murrah building.

NARRATOR: At some point Fortier decides to not take part in the bombing. In fact, in a later plea bargain he will agree to testify against his co-conspirators.

In March 1995 McVeigh creates a fake driver's license with the name Robert D. Kling and a birth day of April 19th, 1972. On April 14th McVeigh buys the yellow 1977 Mercury Marquee from a used car dealer in Junction City, Kansas. The next day McVeigh reserves the Ryder truck from Elliott's Body Shop, using the Robert D. Kling alias.

On April 16th, McVeigh and Nichols drive the Mercury to Oklahoma City. McVeigh parks it several blocks away from the Murrah building. He removes the license plates from the car and leaves a note. "Not abandoned. Please do not tow. Will move by April 23rd. Needs battery and cable."

Two days later McVeigh and Nichols rendezvous at Geary Lake State Park in Junction City where they assemble the bomb in the truck.

BLACK: The ammonium nitrate and the fuel would have been mixed in some barrels, something akin to a 55-gallon plastic barrel. Those barrels were then likely connected with this detonating cord which led to the boosters. And then ultimately that detonating cord would have come together where the detonators or blasting caps were.

NARRATOR: But at the last minute Terry Nichols, like Michael Fortier, bails out.

HERBECK: As time grew near to the time of the bombing, Nichols got cold feet. He decided he didn't want to do that. He decided that was going too far. McVeigh screamed at him, threatened him, may have threatened to kill him.

NARRATOR: On the morning of April 19th McVeigh, now on his own, drives the Ryder truck into Oklahoma City. At 8:57 a.m. security cameras at the Regency Tower Apartment Building, a few blocks west of the Murrah building, catch the Ryder truck parked across the street. Investigators surmise this is when McVeigh lights the first fuse. A few minutes later McVeigh moves the truck up, lights the second fuse, and parks on the north side of the Murrah building.

He then exits the truck and begins walking rapidly to the yellow Mercury parked four blocks away. At the federal building the work day is starting. Hundreds of people are already inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Explosion in downtown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About one-third of the building has been blown away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole half of the federal building is gone.

NARRATOR: McVeigh is only two blocks away when the bomb detonates. But he makes it to the getaway car and heads north on Interstate 35 where he is soon stopped for driving a vehicle without tags. Among the items found after his arrest is a business card for a military supply store. On the back is a handwritten note. TNT at $5 a stick. Need more.

MICHEL: There is no question in my mind that Timothy McVeigh wanted to get caught, wanted to become a martyr. Wanted the U.S. government to execute him. He left a trail of bread crumbs for the federal agents. He was seeking the deluxe suicide by cop execution package.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As nearly 2500 news people began to settle in for the trial, outside the federal courthouse, so is the city of Denver.

NARRATOR: During his trial, Timothy McVeigh does not deny that he set the truck bomb. He instructs his lawyers to use a necessity defense. That he acted in self-defense against an oppressive federal government.

MICHEL: McVeigh looked at the federal trial as a multi-million dollar soapbox for his anti-government views. That he felt he had no choice but to blow up a building and kill 168 people.

JONES: Is everything still all right?


JONES: You have no complaints?

MCVEIGH: No, nothing. A problem to bring up.

JONES: OK. So it's a situation here is a lot better than it was and --

MCVEIGH: Day and night.

JONES: Good. Good.

LEVIN: In his distorted world view, his actions were a justifiable response to what he considered violence perpetrated by the government against his own people.

NARRATOR: But defense attorney Steven Jones knew a necessity case was unwinnable, so he choose a different course. Arguing that McVeigh was only part of a much larger conspiracy.

JONES: The greatest mystery of the Oklahoma City bombing case is who else besides Tim McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and Michael Fortier were involved because there were most assuredly others.

NARRATOR: Much of the speculation centered on the man reportedly seen with McVeigh at the truck rental company. Known as John Doe number two, the description did not fit either Terry Nichols or Michael Fortier. Investigators concluded that John Doe number two never existed.

RICKS: We found a gentleman that had been in there that generally fit the description of John Doe number two, but it turned out it had been on a different day. He'd been in there with a friend that had rented a Ryder truck, so we now realized that it was a misidentification of people transposing two different events and putting two different occurrences together.

HERBECK: They swore to us over and over again that there was no John Doe number two. No one was with him on the day of the bombing.

ANDREW GUMBEL, AUTHOR, OKLAHOMA CITY: WHAT THE INVESTIGATION MISSED: The biggest misconception out there about the Oklahoma City bombing in my view is that this was something that sprang from the brain of Timothy McVeigh, was masterminded by Timothy McVeigh and substantially carried out by Timothy McVeigh with a little bit of help from Terry Nichols. NARRATOR: If there were other people involved with the bombing, who were they? Some believe there may have been a connection between McVeigh and Elohim City, a so-called Christian identity community in northeastern Oklahoma about 170 miles from Oklahoma City near the Arkansas border.

GUMBEL: Christian identity is essentially a religion that says that white Anglo-Saxon Americans are the true children of Israel and Jews are subhuman, essentially, and black people are not even human at all.

NARRATOR: During the early 1990s a number of far right extremists have reportedly spent time at the Elohim City.

SOUTHERS: This was an interesting time. You had a number of anti- government groups that were taking shape arming themselves, building compounds throughout the country, establishing their own laws, really setting themselves apart from mainstream cities and locations on purpose and believing then that not only people of other faiths or ethnicities or nationalities were the enemy, but that the United States government was the biggest enemy.

JONES: The question that recurs is, what was the connection between Tim McVeigh and Elohim City. Tim McVeigh said he never went there. There are people, however, who claim to have seen McVeigh at Elohim City, and probably the strongest evidence that he was there is a ticket he received from an Arkansas Highway patrolman about four miles into Arkansas from Oklahoma on the road that takes you straight to Elohim City. So if he wasn't at Elohim City, where was he?

LEVIN: Timothy McVeigh made some calls to Elohim City. He drove near the area, we know, but beyond that, any connection to Elohim City or the notion that there were others involved is speculation heaped on speculation.

NARRATOR: But even assuming others were involved, why would McVeigh so strongly insists that he acted alone with help only from Nichols and Fortier?

JONES: He believed that in lying, he would protect the others so they wouldn't be convicted. And he spun a series of lies to shield the others.

HERBECK: I think it's possible that there were other people that helped along the way, but did not know they were helping with the bombing. But I believe the only ones who actually knew what they were working on were the three men that were punished by the government. McVeigh, Fortier, and Nichols.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Two years and 44 days after the worst terrorist attack on United States soil, a verdict has been rendered in the bombing trial of Timothy McVeigh.

NARRATOR: On June 2nd, 1997, Timothy McVeigh is found guilty on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. He is sentenced to death. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Outside the courthouse in Denver, tears, smiles, and all emotions in between.

NARRATOR: Later that year on December 24th, Terry Nichols is also convicted. He is currently serving life at the federal supermax prison in Colorado. For cooperating, Michael Fortier receives a 12- year sentence. He is now part of the witness protection program.

HERBECK: People are going to remember Timothy McVeigh as a murder, not a martyr.

NARRATOR: On June 11th, 2001, Timothy McVeigh is put to death at the federal correctional complex in Terre Haute, Indiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Timothy James McVeigh has been executed by lethal injection.

NARRATOR: It is the first federal execution in 38 years.

RESNICK: McVeigh even at the point he was being executed never flinched, never changed his mind, never expressed regret, but right to the point of his death, McVeigh sustained his belief and did not show remorse.


NARRATOR: Just over a month after the Oklahoma City bombing, what was left of the Murrah Federal Building was demolished. Today the site is home to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. In addition to a reflecting pool, there is a field of empty chairs, 168 hand crafted sculptures that represent the victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The memorial is a very special place. I think it really is a tribute to those who were killed and those who survived and those changed forever.

CLAUDIA DENNY, VICTIMS' MOTHER: It's just a positive thing that came out of a negative situation, that we want people not to forget but realize if a bad thing happens, you can get through it.

NARRATOR: Claudia and Jim Denny's children, Brandon and Rebecca, were two of six kids in the daycare center who survived the blast.

JIM DENNY, VICTIMS' FATHER: Rebecca was in the hospital for 10 days, released in pretty decent shape. She looked horrible, but she was in pretty good shape. Brandon in 1995 spent 126 days hospitalized. The first 45 days he had four major brain surgeries. They could not tell me for 35 days if Brandon would live.

And they informed us that if he did survive, he would more than likely never walk or talk again. But we have a young man who is now 21 years old, and he is a walking, talking example of what miracles are all about.

NARRATOR: The Oklahoma City bombing remains the worst domestic terrorist act in American history. It changed the country in ways that are still being felt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People forget how different the world was when the bombing happened. And I think it shattered across the world people's feelings of safety and security. Because if it can happen in Oklahoma City, it can happen anywhere. If it can happen me, it can happen to anyone.

MICHEL: We became a more cautious society. Barriers went up around federal buildings. You have more security. The seeds of homeland security were actually planted by Timothy McVeigh.

NARRATOR: There were other changes as well. The attack led to significant engineering improvements that allow buildings to better withstand excessive forces, whether manmade or natural.

And legislation passed in the wake of the disaster has given greater voice to the victims and families left behind by attacks like the Oklahoma City bombing.

RICKS: Timothy McVeigh believed that he was going to cause people to rise up and rebel against their government. This was going to be the start of the revolution. And what happened was the total opposite. You saw a community in total support of its law enforcement, of its firemen, of its government. It shows that when we put our hearts and our minds together, we can make something good happen out of something terrible.

NARRATOR: But resilience alone can't protect against every threat. Events continue to demonstrate that free societies must remain vigilant.

The tragic bombing that killed three and injured 250 at the 2013 Boston marathon is a stark example. Almost certainly by coincidence, it happened on Patriots Day. Virtually 18 years to the day after Timothy McVeigh attacked Oklahoma City.