Timothy McVeigh, the mastermind behind the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, is remarkable in that he led an utterly unremarkable life. He was quiet, polite, went to church, an underachiever in high school, uninterested in college, and stayed out of trouble. As it stands, nothing from his background would predict, or explain, the catastrophic Oklahoma City bombing, an event that killed 168 and wounded over 500.
This Timothy McVeigh wiki takes a comprehensive look at his life and tries to piece together the events that drove McVeigh to commit the second-largest domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Who Was Timothy McVeigh?
For someone who will go down in American history as one of its greatest domestic terrorists, McVeigh led a very ordinary, boy-next-door life. But it’s this normalcy that makes him one of the scariest men in the world.
Timothy James McVeigh was born in Lockport, New York on April 23, 1968 to Bill and Mildred McVeigh. He had two sisters, Patricia and Jennifer.
The McVeigh family grew up in the nearby working-class town of Pendleton, New York where they attended a local Catholic church. In fact, Timothy was confirmed Catholic.
Pendleton, which is just 30 minutes north of Buffalo, is a conservative, almost exclusively white community, with long patches of farmland separating many of the houses.
During his early years, Timothy, like any kid, liked to ride his bike and play cowboys. At around the age of seven, his paternal grandfather Ed was the first person to teach young Timothy McVeigh how to use a rifle.
McVeigh’s father Bill, a lifelong resident of Pendleton, worked the midnight shift at a General Motors auto parts plant. This was the same plant where his father worked for 30 years.
Bill McVeigh was a community-minded person who raised money for civic causes, ran bingo nights at his Catholic church, and liked to garden and golf. He is also a registered Democrat.
Timothy’s mother Mildred, or Mickey, was a travel agent.
By all accounts, the parents loved their children immensely. Their love for each other, however, was strained. The couple fought hard, loud, and often.
McVeigh vs. McVeigh
In 1978, Mildred decided the marriage was over. Bill’s quiet lifestyle was at odds with Mildred’s. She thought Bill was “too domesticated.” On nights when Bill would stay in, eat pizza, and watch the Buffalo Bills, Mildred would go out to bars, restaurants, and clubs.
There was no trial separation; Mildred just packed her bags and left. She moved to Florida but eventually returned to the area. Timothy, 10, and his sister Patti, 12, stayed behind in Pendleton with their father. Four-year-old Jennifer went with her mother but returned and lived with Bill at a later point.
Friends of Timothy do not recall seeing Mildred much after the separation, save for when she drove up, stayed for a few minutes, then left. It was thought that Timothy McVeigh had handled their breakup well.
“People ask me, ‘Wasn’t Tim crushed?’” said Father Paul Belzer, the family priest for 20 years. “But he didn’t seem to be. He lived in the same house, had the same friends. Yeah, he’d have to miss his mother, but so many of the anchors were there.”
Around this time, young McVeigh began to show a greater interest in guns. But in an area where hunting is a popular pastime, friends and family just saw this as a way for a boy to seek attention and companionship.
Timothy McVeigh: A Quiet, Smart, Underachiever
For the most part, it seems Timothy McVeigh repressed any negative emotions with regards to his parents’ divorce. He would later deny that their divorce had any lasting effect on him.
That doesn’t mean McVeigh didn’t want the kind of family his friends had.
He wanted a home where friends would hang out after school. So, he built a skateboard ramp in his driveway, invited friends over to shoot baskets, created a haunted house in his basement, and held casino nights on the weekends where he was the dealer. McVeigh charged admission to the haunted house and won money from the casino.
Years later, friends would say it was odd that he never mentioned his mother after she left. Some friends even thought his mother was dead.
McVeigh’s interest in guns continued during these years. Even though his father Bill had little to no interest in hunting, he eventually bought Timothy a .22 caliber rifle, which he used to shoot targets in the woods behind the family home.
McVeigh soon graduated to acquiring a semiautomatic BB gun that could fire 15 rounds with the pull of a trigger; no other boys had one. Students would later recall how in school, when they got bored, they’d doodle…and McVeigh would draw guns.
When McVeigh turned 14, he confided to a few friends that he was a survivalist, stockpiling food, weapons, and camping equipment. He did it “in case of a nuclear attack or the communists took over the country,” recalled one neighbor.
McVeigh was known, even at that young age, for talking patriotically and defending America. As the same neighbor noted, “some people thought maybe the divorce put Tim over the deep end.”
Timothy McVeigh showed a lot of interest in guns and being a survivalist, but that enthusiasm for learning didn’t make its way into the classroom. He was smart, but that wasn’t apparent in school. In fact, teachers at his school were surprised when he won a state Regents Scholarship in his senior year for high scores on standardized tests.
In his 1986 high school yearbook entry, McVeigh didn’t list any organized activities, even though he was on the track team. Instead he wrote, “Staying away from school, losing sleep, finding it in school.” Under future plans: “Take it as it comes, buy a Lamborghini, California girls.”
This last bit surprised classmates since McVeigh never had a girlfriend in high school, or at least not one they were aware of. McVeigh always seemed uninterested in dating. But the teen kept to himself so much that it’s not a total surprise his peers knew little about his personal life.
McVeigh was apparently so quiet his classmates sarcastically voted him “Most Talkative.”
Seeds of Dissent
Around this time, the survivalist McVeigh discovered The Turner Diaries, a right-wing novel that describes attacking FBI headquarters with a homemade bomb made of fertilizer and fuel oil. The first entry in the wildly racist fictitious diary of Earl Turner is dated September 16, 1991.
In the novel, “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.
After high school, the local economy got crushed and McVeigh found himself in and out of work. Major blue-collar employers, like auto and steel plants, either downsized or shut down completely. On top of that, two major banks failed, sending thousands of white-collar workers onto the streets, resulting in a downturn in real estate, advertising, and other sectors.
There was growing fear that foreign competition was destroying the American Dream for McVeigh’s generation. And the federal government wasn’t helping.
“There are no jobs around here unless you want to work for $6.00 an hour or less at a McDonald’s or Wendy’s,” Bill McVeigh said. “It’s rough for anybody looking for work.”
Race and affirmative action were also becoming lightning rods of white resentment. People thought you had a better chance of getting an apprenticeship if you were a person of color.
With little to no work options, most of McVeigh’s high school class went on to college. McVeigh, the recipient of a Regents Scholarship, took a couple of computer courses at a two-year business college in Buffalo, but then quit. He was bored. Not surprisingly, no teacher at the college even remembers McVeigh.
Tim McVeigh eventually found work driving an armored truck delivering money to banks and businesses. He said the job was boring, but he got to wear a uniform and carry a gun. A coworker said McVeigh never talked about U.S. politics except to complain that it took too much money from his paychecks.
In January 1988, McVeigh and a friend, David Darlak, bought 10 acres of wooded land southeast of Buffalo. The two said they bought the $7,000 track of land as an investment and for hunting. McVeigh would later tell friends that he really wanted the land to build a survivalist bunker.
One property owner who lived nearby recalls one time in May 1988 when McVeigh and friends set off large explosives that “rocked the entire valley for hours.”
McVeigh Enlists in the U.S. Army
One night after work, McVeigh dropped by to talk to his father and complain about his job. He was venting about how his life wasn’t going anywhere and he could only get low-paying, unsatisfactory jobs. A friend of his father’s, who was also an auto worker, reminded McVeigh that both he and his father Bill had been in the service, and said that’s what he should do.
A week later, Timothy McVeigh enlisted in the U.S. Army.
When asked why he enlisted, McVeigh said, “You get to shoot.”
In May 1988, the 20-year-old found himself in basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He quickly became friends with a solider 13 years his senior, Terry Nichols.
Nichols was from Michigan and, like McVeigh, was equally as directionless, had a love of guns, was a survivalist, and believed the U.S. government would take away citizens’ weapons.
Thanks to his love of guns, McVeigh shone in the Army. In the first weeks of basic training, he boasted that he already knew how to make a bomb using a bottle; he then proceeded to tell fellow soldiers how to make a Molotov cocktail.
Everyone was eventually sent to Fort Riley, Kansas and assigned to Charlie Company of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Regiment of the First Infantry Division. Here, McVeigh’s hidden potential broke through the surface. His entrance test scores showed he was exceptionally intelligent, with strong marks in math, science, electronics, and high tech.
In a Bradley Fighting Vehicle gunner competition, McVeigh fired a rare perfect score. His uniform was always perfectly starched and McVeigh frequently won days off for his immaculate appearance. The fact is, the young man knew what the Army wanted and he was going to give it to them.
Not surprisingly, McVeigh was one of the first in his company to reach the rank of sergeant. He was considered to be a rising star.
But there was one area that McVeigh needed to work on: race relations. The young soldier was criticized for assigning the worst jobs to black specialists. Other soldiers remember McVeigh making derogatory remarks about African-Americans.
Otherwise, McVeigh is remembered for his clean living. He didn’t drink and, as in high school, is not remembered for taking an interest in women. While fellow soldiers were out on the town, McVeigh was back at the barracks reading survivalist magazines and watching videos like Red Dawn, a 1983 Cold War fantasy about Midwestern high-school students taking on the Soviet Army. McVeigh rented the movie four times.
On weekends, he would also sneak in guns in a duffel bag and clean them. Asked what he did in his spare time, McVeigh said, “Buy guns.” Not just any guns: rifles, assault weapons, and semiautomatic pistols. Never revolvers; McVeigh thought revolvers were too slow.
If fellow soldiers made fun of McVeigh, he would simply reply, “Just wait.”
McVeigh’s Closest Female Relationship
Timothy McVeigh was uncomfortable around women, often turning red at the mention of a set-up and even going so far as ripping up a phone number passed to him. In fact, fellow soldiers remember that the only woman he spoke fondly of was his sister Jennifer.
Family friends said McVeigh loved to protect her, as if it filled an emotional hole. And fellow soldiers say he called her often from Riley, saying how much he loved her.
McVeigh Shines in Combat
In 1991, Timothy McVeigh was deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Storm. Unfortunately, McVeigh said that he saw less action than he wanted to as a Bradley gunner.
Still, he made an impact. On his first day, he hit an Iraqi tank from more than 500 yards away. Later, he hit an Iraqi from 1,100 yards with a 25-mm cannon.
He would say later he was surprised to be ordered to execute surrendering prisoners.
Many soldiers were scarred by what they saw, but McVeigh took it in stride. Several soldiers recall him taking photographs, including many of dead Iraqis.
McVeigh was decorated with many service awards for his action in combat, including the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, the Kuwait Liberation Medal, Army Commendation and Army achievement medals, and the National Defense Service Medal.
After the ceasefire was called, McVeigh returned to the U.S. and tried out for the Green Berets. But he was not able to maintain the rigid conditioning he followed back in the U.S. during the war. After two days, he quit.
On December 31, 1991, after serving in the U.S. Army for three years and seven months, McVeigh was discharged. In his Army evaluation, McVeigh was considered to be “among the best” in leadership potential and an “inspiration to young soldiers.”
The Iraqi war would be the pinnacle of McVeigh’s military career. The war was over, he was returning to civilian life, and he was leaving his close military friends behind. On the outside, McVeigh was the perfect solider, and serving in the U.S. Army fulfilled him. When he no longer had the Army, he had to find something else to fill that void.
An Anti-Government Civilian
McVeigh’s anti-government sentiment was not born overnight; it evolved gradually after he was discharged from the Army. But it didn’t take long for that anger to percolate.
He went to his hometown of Pendleton; to Decker, Michigan, the home of Terry Nichols; and to Kingman, Arizona, the home of Michael Fortier, an Army friend. Each time he would tell people he was looking for a place to settle down.
He spent the first year back in Pendleton living with his father. After being a decorated and admired soldier, it must have been a disappointment for McVeigh to land a job as a low-wage security guard patrolling the grounds of a Buffalo defense contractor. Still, he excelled and was promoted to supervisor.
These were dark times, though. While working security at the Niagara Falls convention center, McVeigh was placed by the back door, out of sight. He had exploded at a teenage girl when he was checking her identification and was given a security detail that entailed having little contact with others.
One friend said at the time that McVeigh looked “like things were really weighing on him.”
Rage Against the Machine
By now, McVeigh was raging against virtually every aspect of the American government. And violence was now an option to overcome any hurdles. At least that’s how McVeigh put it in letters he wrote to the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal in February and March 1992.
In the first letter, he waxed about rising crime, “cataclysmic” taxes, self-serving politicians, and the decline of the American Dream, “substituted with people struggling just to buy next week’s groceries.”
“What is it going to take to open the eyes of our elected officials? America is in serious decline!”
McVeigh ends, “We have no proverbial tea to dump, should we instead sink a ship full of Japanese imports? Is a Civil War Imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that. But it might.”
In a second letter dated March 10, 1992, McVeigh wrote about the moral superiority of hunting for your own food.
“Animals raised for slaughter live and die in misery,” McVeigh said. Those shot by hunters, it would seem, lived blissfully. “Would you rather die while living happily or die while living a miserable life?”
Ruby Ridge and Waco: Fuel for the Fire
In the summer of 1992, McVeigh visited Terry Nichols at a northeast Michigan farm owned by Terry’s brother James Nichols. Over the next few years, McVeigh would move back and forth between the Michigan farm and Kingman, Arizona.
He worked odd jobs and attended gun shows in Arizona and Nevada. His business name was “Tim Tuttle.” McVeigh needed an alias, he said, to protect himself from people at gun shows who did not share the same political views.
McVeigh’s right-wing political views were getting juiced up by the current political climate. Bill Clinton was busy campaigning for the presidency and calling for stricter gun controls. This, of course, was seen as the beginning of the end.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) thought Clinton was a tyrant. McVeigh, though, dropped out of the NRA because he believed the group was too soft on defending assault weapons.
August 1992 – Ruby Ridge
That summer, anti-government sentiment rose up after federal forces stormed the rural home of survivalist and white separatist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho on illegal weapons charges.
His wife Vicky and their son Sammy were accidentally killed by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi. After nine days, Weaver surrendered.
February-April 1993 – Waco Texas
Fast forward to February 28, 1993 and 100 members of the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) division of the U.S. Treasury Department raided Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, home of the Branch Davidians.
The ATF’s objective was to serve a search warrant for illegal firearms and explosives and arrest David Koresh. However, the Davidians had advance warning and were ready for the ATF when they arrived. A 45-minute gun battle ensued. When it was over, four federal agents and five Branch Davidian members were dead.
A long siege began that day.
On March 30, McVeigh traveled to Waco to show support for Koresh and the Branch Davidians. At that time, a student reporter interviewed McVeigh about his take on the siege. The future bomber is recorded and photographed sitting on his car, selling anti-government bumper stickers.
On April 19, 1993, federal law enforcement agencies descended on Mount Carmel in an effort to end the 51-day siege. The day culminated with a catastrophic fire in which more than 75 Branch Davidians were killed, including leader Koresh and 25 children.
It was never conclusively proven who started the fire. But for McVeigh, Waco, like Ruby Ridge, pointed to a government cover-up.
In letters to his sister Jennifer, McVeigh said a war had been declared and he was just responding, a solider defending America from oppressors.
In addition to visiting Waco, it was later discovered that McVeigh had also gone to Ruby Ridge to conduct his own investigation of the Weaver shootings. He was certain that federal agents, and in particular Lon Horiuchi, had intentionally killed Weaver’s wife Vicky.
For five months after the incident at Waco, McVeigh worked the gun show circuit, handing out free cards with Horiuchi’s name and address on it “in the hope that somebody in the Patriot movement would assassinate the sharpshooter.”
On top of that, McVeigh wrote hate mail to Horiuchi, warning him that “what goes around, comes around.”
He also sold copies of The Turner Diaries and Hunter, the follow-up novel, at weekend gun shows.
McVeigh initially thought of implementing a hit list of government officials he wanted to kill, including former Attorney General Janet Reno. His motive for eliminating Reno was to avenge the deaths of the 80 people who died in the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
Other potential targets included Federal Judge Walter Smith, who presided over the Waco trial, and, not surprisingly, FBI sniper Horiuchi.
As history shows us, McVeigh abandoned these plans and opted instead to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
McVeigh Puts Oklahoma City Bombing into Motion
In the fall of 1993, Timothy McVeigh moved back to the Nichols farm in Michigan, a familiar place where he was with people who shared his anti-government ideologies. Here, McVeigh and the Nichols brothers formed their own secret paramilitary outfit and distributed literature that called for violence to restore American freedom.
In September, McVeigh put into motion his plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Why this particular federal building? 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.
McVeigh Buys First 2,000 Pounds of Explosives
That September, McVeigh and Nichols used aliases to purchase 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate from a farm co-op in McPherson, Kansas. They also acquired detonation cord and auto-racing fuel.
The following month, the two men stole explosives from a rock quarry in Marion, Kansas. They then moved the stolen explosives to a storage locker in Kingman, Arizona.
On October 18, McVeigh and Nichols purchased another 2,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate in McPherson, Kansas and put it in a storage locker in Council Grove, Kansas. Three days later, McVeigh went to a Texas track and bought $2,775 worth of nitromethane racing fuel.
In November, McVeigh and Nichols robbed a firearms dealer in Arkansas, making off with cash, weapons, ammunition, coins, precious metals, and other property. Nichols placed the stolen items in another storage locker at the same Council Grove, Kansas facility.
On December 16, 1994, McVeigh drove to Kansas with Michael Fortier to pick up the firearms they had stolen from a dealer in November. On the way there, McVeigh drove by the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and told Fortier that it was their target.
McVeigh Rents Ryder Truck and Builds Bomb
Sometime in March 1995, one month before the Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh got a phony driver’s license using the name “Robert Kling.” The issue date of the driver’s license was April 19, 1993—the date of the final siege on the Branch Davidians.
On April 17, McVeigh went to Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City to pick up the 20-foot Ryder truck he had rented. He again used the name Robert Kling and said his destination was Omaha, Nebraska.
The next day, McVeigh and Nichols went to Geary Lake State Park in Kansas and built a bomb in the cargo compartment of the Ryder truck. They filled barrels with a mixture of ammonium nitrate, fuel, and other explosives.
April 19, 1995: The Oklahoma City Bombing
Sometime before 9:00 a.m. on the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked the Ryder truck packed with 5,000 pounds of homemade explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the second anniversary of the FBI raid on the Branch Davidian compound,
At exactly 9:02 a.m., the truck bomb exploded, ripping off the north wall of the nine-storey Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500. Of the dead, 19 were children.
The blast was so powerful that more than 300 buildings in the immediate area sustained damage or were destroyed.
Until September 11, 2001, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Initially, TV reports said foreign terrorists were behind the blast and suggested men of Middle Eastern descent were seen running from the scene.
Unbeknownst to the world, Timothy McVeigh was in custody within 90 minutes of the bombing on totally unrelated charges. He was stopped by a state trooper 80 miles from Oklahoma City because his car was missing a license plate. The officer then arrested him when he discovered McVeigh was carrying a concealed weapon.
Excerpts of The Turner Diaries were found in Timothy McVeigh’s getaway car:
“The real value of our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties. For one thing, our efforts against the System gained immeasurably in credibility. More important, though, is what we taught the politicians and the bureaucrats. They learned today that not one of them is beyond our reach. They can huddle behind barbed wire and tanks in the city, or they can hide behind the concrete walls and alarm systems of their country estates, but we can still find them and kill them.”
Back at the explosion site, investigators found the rear axle of the Ryder truck they believed was used in the bombing. Using the Vehicle Identification Number, investigators traced the truck rental back to a lot in Junction City, Kansas. There, the rental agent worked with a sketch artist to provide a likeness of the man who had rented the vehicle.
On April 21, shortly before McVeigh was set to be released from the Noble County Jail on the weapons charge, he was identified as the Oklahoma City bombing suspect and charged.
The McVeigh Trial
On August 11, 1995, McVeigh was indicted on 11 felony counts.
The actual trial began in April 1997 and lasted for five weeks. On June 2, 1997, after 23.5 hours of deliberation, the jury found McVeigh guilty of all 11 charges. He was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
McVeigh Executed on June 11, 2001
On June 11, Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. In the hours leading up to his death, the Oklahoma City Bomber was apparently calm, watching TV and enjoying a last meal of ice cream.
He said goodbye to friends, family, and his lawyer. And even though he described himself as agnostic, he received the Catholic Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick by a prison chaplain.
Part of the sacrament includes confession and an absolution of sins. When asked if McVeigh had confessed to the priest, his lawyer Robert Nigh said, “I think it speaks for itself.”
Before his execution, McVeigh released a statement through a spokesperson. 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.”
His choice of “Invictus,” Latin for “unconquered,” implies that in the end, McVeigh was true to his own convictions and, despite being executed, felt he was not conquered.
From three witness rooms, the execution was watched by 10 journalists, McVeigh’s lawyers, government officials, and 10 survivors and victims’ relatives. Another 232 people in Oklahoma City were linked in by a live satellite feed. McVeigh’s execution was actually held up for 10 minutes while engineers worked to fix a fault in the transmission.
The execution began at 7:00 a.m. Authorities placed a needle in McVeigh’s right leg and pumped a lethal cocktail into his veins. He died with his eyes open, without uttering a word.
Timothy McVeigh was pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m.
His body was cremated.
Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber, remains the only terrorist to be executed by the U.S. government.