But regardless of the meaning it has attained over time, the bombing was at its core simply a crime a murder of massive proportions.
McVeigh has said he committed the bombing in reaction to the 1993 federal raid on Waco, which ended in flames and death. Oklahoma City ended the same way. But court documents reveal months of meticulous planning and dozens of trips across America's heartland laid the groundwork for the final, violent catastrophe.
According to the federal criminal complaint against McVeigh, the conspiracy that ended in the deadly April 19, 1995 bombing began more than six months earlier, in September, 1994. That's when McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two old Army buddies, bought 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate that would ultimately become part of the bomb that killed 168 people.
In October, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols broke into a storage locker in Kansas and stole explosives, which they then brought to Arizona. Then the two men bought more ammonium nitrate, and stole guns and money from an Arkansas gun dealer.
On December 16, 1994, federal documents say, McVeigh and Michael Fortier, another Army chum who eventually testified against McVeigh in a deal with prosecutors, drove to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building to view their target.
Located at 200 N.W. 5th Street in Oklahoma City, the nine-story Murrah building was home to several federal agencies, including the ATF and Secret Service, and as many as 724 federal employees. It also contained the America's Kids Day Care Center, a Federal Employees Credit Union and a snack bar on the fourth floor. Testimony at his trial indicates McVeigh believed the decision to make the final assault on Waco was made at the Murrah building.
More than three months before the blast, in January, 1995, McVeigh and Nichols sold the guns stolen from Arkansas and used the money to finance the last stages of the conspiracy.
As the winter wore on and changed to spring, the final parts of the bombing plan fell into place.
Nichols in February rented a storage unit in Council Grove, Kan., where some of the materials used in the bomb were kept. In March, McVeigh picked up a fake driver's license in the name of Robert Kling. The birthday on the license was April 19.
According to the criminal complaint, McVeigh rented a room in Junction City, Kan., five days before the bombing, on April 14, and called a truck rental store to see if it had a vehicle capable of carrying about 5,000 pounds.
McVeigh put down a deposit on the truck the next day and picked it up two days later, April 17. On the 18th, the federal governent asserted in court documents, McVeigh and Nichols built the 4,800-pound bomb made of chemical fertilizer and diesel fuel at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas.
On April 19, a Wednesday, McVeigh parked the 24-foot, 1993 Ford truck in a loading lane on the north side of the Murrah building, set a detonation cord and left.
At 9:02 a.m. local time, the bomb went off.
The force of the blast, felt as far away as six miles, ate away a third of the Murrah building, tearing a massive wound in the structure. It pressed the first two floors against the south wall. The upper floors then pancaked down. Debris piled up almost 12 meters high.
Smoke filled the air and the ground was littered with bricks, glass and debris. Damage extended for 48 blocks. Cars were overturned or caught fire.
At the time of the explosion, there were 361 people in the Murrah building. One hundred sixty-three of them died 118 workers, 15 of the 21 children at the day-care center, and 30 visitors and 166 were injured.
Three of those killed were pregnant.
There were dozens of injuries in the two-story Water Resources building and the three-story Athenian, and others were hurt at the six-story Journal Record building, as well as the nearby YMCA. The blast rocked the United State Courthouse a block away, punching dozens of windows out of their sills. Another 315 buildings were damaged. Oklahoma City EMS lost phone service.
Medical teams set up triage units in the downtown area, as rescuers formed human chains to pull survivors from the fragile shell of the federal building. Emergency teams were told to evacuate the building twice due to bomb scares.
A massive law enforcement response began when police officers heard the blast and headed for the scene.
In addition to local and federal law enforcement agencies, those who arrived on the scene included the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office, the state highway patrol and National Guard, and troops from Tinker Air Force Base.
Three hundred members of urban rescue teams from Dade County, Fla., New York City and elsewhere were on hand, along with more than 70 fire departments, to help with the search for the dead and injured.
That search continued until May 29, three days after the demolition of the Murrah building, when the final body was found.
Almost as soon as the blast occurred, the hunt for those responsible began. Federal agents got a vehicle identification number from the wreckage of the van that carried the bomb and traced it to a Miami rental agency, where it had been rented to a man using the name Bob Kling.
Agents would eventually realize this was a false name and go back to the rental agent, having him help construct a composite sketch of the renter. When this sketch was shown to the staff at the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kan., investigators first learned Timothy McVeigh's name. They also learned his home address in Michigan, and established a connection between that property and co-conspiator Terry Nichols.
Two days after the bombing, agents found out that McVeigh had been arrested at 10:30 a.m. on April 19 not 90 minutes after the massive blast. He was picked up in Perry, Okla., for driving without tags on his license plate and carrying a gun. When he was booked, he listed James Nichols, Terry's brother, as a reference.
Federal authorities arrested McVeigh for the bombing on April 21; Nichols surrendered the same day. The two were indicted the following August.
The John Doe 1 & 2
sketches produced early in the investigation.
"It was the object of the conspiracy," the indictment read, "to kill and injure innocent persons and to damage property of the United States."
McVeigh was convicted June 2, 1997, on all 11 counts and sentenced to death. He initially dropped his appeals of his death sentence in December 2000, and asked for an execution date, which was set for May 16. His execution was postponed until June 11 after it was learned that the FBI had withheld thousands of pieces of evidence from his lawyers. McVeigh moved in court for a further postponement, but when his appeals were denied, he resigned himself to his execution.
In December 1997, Nichols was found guilty of conspiracy and involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to life in prison and awaits trial on Oklahoma state murder charges, but has appealed to the Supreme Court for a hearing on the newly disclosed evidence.
Fortier, who pleaded guilty to four counts including weapons charges, has been sentenced twice and appealed both sentences. This past March, the 10th Circuit Court of appeals affirmed a sentence of 144 months in jail and a $75,000 fine.
© MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved