The Oklahoma City bombing continues to resonate with Americans. This timeline covers the events leading up to the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, what happened that terrible day, as well as the arrest and prosecution of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.
In the domestic terrorist attack, two men, McVeigh and Nichols, filled a truck with 5,000 pounds of explosives and detonated it. The blast tore off the north wall of the nine-storey Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people—19 were children—and injuring more than 500.
Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Timeline of the Oklahoma City Bombing
April 1, 1955
Terry Nichols is born in Lapeer County, Michigan to Robert Nichols, a farmer, and Joyce Nichols.
While growing up on the farm, he learns how to mix fertilizer and fuel to make bombs. His father uses these homemade bombs to blow up tree stumps.
April 23, 1968
Timothy McVeigh is born to Bill and Mildred McVeigh in Lockport, New York. He grows up in the nearby working-class town of Pendleton, New York. After his parents divorced, he lives with his father and develops an interest in guns after taking target practice sessions with his grandfather.
Around this time, McVeigh reads The Turner Diaries, a right-wing tome that describes the bombing of the FBI headquarters with a homemade truck bomb. The first entry in the wildly racist fictitious diary of Earl Turner is dated September 16, 1991.
It goes on to describe how “The System,” which is led by Jewish politicians and made up of African-American enforcers, attempts to confiscate all of the guns in the U.S. “The Order,” a secretive society, rises up to take back the country for white supremacists.
The novel helps fuel McVeigh’s fears about a government plot to repeal the Second Amendment, and it becomes essential reading for white supremacists and anti-government groups.
Terry Nichols graduates from Lapeer West High School in Lapeer, Michigan.
Timothy McVeigh graduates from Starpoint High School in Lockport, New York.
McVeigh and Nichols enlist in the U.S. Army and meet during basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Terry Nichols is given a hardship discharge; he goes home to take care of his son, Josh.
McVeigh sees active duty as a gunner in the Persian Gulf War. He is decorated with a Bronze Star for his actions in combat.
In April 1991, McVeigh is asked to try out for the Army’s special forces but lasts only two days.
He returns to Fort Riley and is discharged at the end of 1991 after serving in the U.S. Army for three years and seven months.
He moves in with his father Bill in Lockport, New York.
August 21, 1992
Anger rises in McVeigh after federal forces storm the rural home of white separatist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho on illegal weapons charges. His wife Vicki and their son Sammy are reportedly accidentally killed by an FBI sniper. After nine days, Weaver surrenders.
Their accidental deaths raise questions about the excessive use of force by federal agents.
February 28, 1993
At approximately 9:30 a.m., 100 members of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) division of the U.S. Treasury Department raid Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, home of the Branch Davidians. Their objective was to serve a search warrant for illegal firearms and explosives and arrest David Koresh. A 45-minute siege ensues, and when it’s over four federal agents are dead and another wounded. Five Branch Davidian members are killed.
March 30, 1993
McVeigh travels to Waco to show support for David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. A student reporter from Southern Methodist University interviews McVeigh about his views of the siege. McVeigh is photographed sitting on his car selling anti-government bumper stickers.
April 19, 1993
Federal law enforcement agencies end the 51-day siege at the compound, which ends in a catastrophic fire. More than 75 Branch Davidians are killed, including leader David Koresh, and 25 children.
Timothy McVeigh lives with the Nichols brothers, Terry and James, in their farmhouse. With the end of the Cold War, McVeigh became suspicious of President Bill Clinton, who campaigned for strict gun controls.
Terry Nichols takes a job as a farmhand in Kansas.
Nichols quits his job as a farmhand to go into business with McVeigh, selling guns and military surplus.
September 13, 1994
Timothy McVeigh plots to blow up the Oklahoma City federal building.
September 30, 1994
McVeigh and Nichols, using aliases, purchase 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate for their homemade bomb from a farm co-op in McPherson, Kansas. Around the same time, they acquire detonation cord and auto-racing fuel.
October 1, 1994
McVeigh and Nichols steal explosives from a rock quarry storage in Marion, Kansas.
October 3, 1994
McVeigh and Nichols transport stolen explosives to another storage locker in Kingman, Arizona, where Nichols’ brother James lives.
October 18, 1994
McVeigh and Nichols purchase another 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in McPherson, Kansas and put it in a storage locker in Council Grove, Kansas.
October 21, 1994
McVeigh goes to a Texas track and manages to buy $2,775 worth of nitromethane racing fuel.
Nichols and McVeigh rob a firearms dealer in Arkansas, making off with cash, weapons, ammunition, coins, precious metals, and other property. Nichols places the stolen items in another storage locker at the same Council Grove, Kansas facility.
December 16, 1994
McVeigh drives to Kansas to pick up the firearms stolen from the Arkansas firearms dealer. On the way there, he drives by the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and tells another co-conspirator, Michael Fortier, that this is their target.
The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building held regional offices for the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives—the agency responsible for the initial raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.
Nichols, McVeigh, and Fortier sell the firearms stolen in Arkansas and split the money.
Timothy McVeigh gets a driver’s license under the name “Robert Kling.” He lies and says his birthday is April 19, 1972.
April 14, 1995
McVeigh buys his getaway car, a 1977 Mercury Marquis, from a Firestone store in Junction City, Kansas. Later, he checks into the Dreamland Motel under the name “Tim McVeigh” and gives an address in Decker, Michigan.
He then calls a local business to inquire about renting a truck that can carry 5,000 pounds of cargo. Using the name Robert Kling, McVeigh places a deposit on a rental truck.
April 17, 1995
McVeigh goes to Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City to pick up the 20-foot Ryder truck. He again uses the name Robert Kling and says his destination is Omaha, Nebraska.