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.
April 18, 1995
McVeigh and Nichols go to Geary Lake State Park in Kansas and build a bomb in the cargo compartment of the rental truck. They fill barrels with a mixture of ammonium nitrate, fuel, and other explosives in preparation for the Oklahoma City bombing.
April 19, 1995: Day of the Oklahoma City Bombing
Before 9:00 a.m.
On the morning of April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound, McVeigh parks the Ryder truck packed with 5,000 pounds of homemade explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
The truck bomb explodes in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. The blast was so powerful, more than 300 buildings in the immediate area sustained damage or were destroyed.
Emergency services establish a triage at 6th and Robinson.
A blood drive begins at Tinker Air Force Base, initiated by the base hospital and Oklahoma Blood Institute.
Timothy McVeigh is stopped by a state trooper on Interstate 35, 78 miles north of Oklahoma City, because his car is missing its tag. He is arrested for concealing a loaded handgun underneath his jacket and is booked into the Noble County jail. Excerpts of The Turner Diaries are found in McVeigh’s getaway car.
Authorities find a rear axle in front of the Regency Tower Apartments, one block away from the Murrah Building. The FBI uses the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to identify it as a Ryder rental truck from Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City, Kansas. Employees at Elliott’s help FBI artist Ray Rozycki create a sketch of Robert Kling, the man who rented the truck, and another man who was in the shop at the same time.
The last survivor of the Oklahoma City bombing is pulled from the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
April 20, 1995
Authorities release the sketches of the two men sought in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing. Lea McGown, day manager of the Dreamland Motel, identifies John Doe No. 1 as Timothy McVeigh.
FBI agents then investigate the Decker, Michigan address provided by McVeigh and discover that Nichols lived there and knows Timothy McVeigh.
April 21, 1995
Terry Nichols surrenders to Kansas police when he learns that authorities are looking for him in connection with McVeigh. He is held on a material witness warrant and questioned by FBI agents. “In my eyes, I did not do anything wrong but I can see how lawyers can turn stuff around. I did not know anything.”
Shortly before McVeigh is set to be released from Noble County jail, he is identified as the Oklahoma City bombing suspect and charged. McVeigh appears in court and is transferred to the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma.
April 23, 1995
Mourners gather at a church service at the State Fair Park in Oklahoma City. The service is attended by the late Rev. Billy Graham, President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Attorney General Janet Reno.
Clinton addresses the crowd: “My fellow Americans, a tree takes a long time to grow and wounds take a long time to heal, but we must begin. Those who are lost now belong to God.”
May 10, 1995
Terry Nichols is charged in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.
May 23, 1995
Demolition experts use just 150 pounds of dynamite to bring down what remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The last three bodies are recovered. A park and memorial are set to be built on the site.
June 14, 1995
Authorities announce the man depicted as John Doe No. 2 is Army Private Todd Bunting of Fort Riley, Kansas. The man had nothing to do with the bombing. It turns out that Bunting helped a friend rent a truck a day after McVeigh picked up his Ryder truck.
August 7, 1995
Stephen Jones, Timothy McVeigh’s attorney, suggests that an unidentified leg found in the rubble could belong to the “real bomber.”
August 8, 1995
Michael Fortier, who knew about McVeigh’s plan to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, agrees to testify against the two men in exchange for a reduced sentence.
August 11, 1995
A federal grand jury in Oklahoma City indicts McVeigh and Nichols on 11 felony counts, blaming them for the bombing and the deaths of eight federal agents. The grand jury also says Nichols and McVeigh conspired “with others unknown.”
October 20, 1995
Attorney General Janet Reno authorizes prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case against Nichols and McVeigh.
April 24, 1997
Opening statements begin in Timothy McVeigh’s federal trial in Denver.
June 2, 1997
The jury finds Timothy McVeigh guilty on 11 counts, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, use of a weapon of mass destruction, destruction by explosive, and eight counts of first-degree murder.
McVeigh later says that he targeted the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to avenge the raid on Waco.
June 13, 1997
Timothy McVeigh is sentenced to death by lethal injection.
October 9, 1997
The Oklahoma City National Memorial is established. The memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and everyone affected by the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
The memorial, located on the former site of the building, features the “Field of Empty Chairs.” This consists of 168 stone and glass chairs placed in rows on a lawn, one for each Oklahoma City bombing victim.
November 2, 1997
Opening statements in Nichols’ trial begin in McAlester, Oklahoma.
December 23, 1997
The jury spends five hours deliberating before finding Nichols guilty of 161 counts of murder. He is found not guilty of destruction by explosive.
January 7, 1998
The jury is deadlocked deliberating Nichols’ sentence. In dismissing the jury, the judge removes the possibility of a death sentence. Nichols is eventually sentenced to life in prison without parole, the maximum possible sentence.
May 27, 1996
Michael Fortier is given a 12-year sentence and fined $200,000 (later reduced to $75,000) for failing to warn authorities about the April 19, 1995 bombing.
Timothy McVeigh files an affidavit asking for an end to his appeals process and requests his execution date be set within 120 days.
January 11, 2001
McVeigh waives his right to appeal. The Federal Bureau of Prisoners sets May 6, 2001 as his execution date.
April 10, 2001
McVeigh meets with his father for the last time and refuses to say he is sorry.
“Dad, if I did, I wouldn’t be telling the truth.”
May 11, 2001
Attorney General John Ashcroft delays McVeigh’s execution until June 11 after the FBI admits it mistakenly withheld thousands of documents from McVeigh’s lawyers. Ashcroft determines that none of the evidence that was withheld would have changed McVeigh’s guilty verdict.
June 11, 2001
Timothy McVeigh is executed by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.
He spends his final hours watching television and sleeping. His requested final meal is two pints of ice cream.
The execution process begins at 7:00 a.m.; by 7:14 a.m., McVeigh is dead.
He did not provide any final words before dying. Instead, he released a statement through a spokesperson before he was executed. It was a handwritten copy of English poet William Ernest Henley’s 1875 poem, “Invictus.”
“My head is bloody but unbowed. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
The line is taken from the poem.
“Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered” and suggests that in the end, McVeigh was true to his own convictions and, despite being executed, was not conquered.
January 20, 2006
Michael Fortier is released from federal prison after serving 10 years of the 12-year sentence for his part in the Oklahoma City bombing. He assumes a new identity upon his release.