Timothy McVeigh Biography

Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, one of the deadliest acts of terrorism in American history. He was executed for his crimes.


Born in Pendleton, New York, Timothy McVeigh grew up in a typical working-class environment. Joined the army in 1988 and was decorated for valor in Operation Desert Storm, before being discharged. He was charged with the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah U.S. government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, in which 168 people died. At his trial in 1997, a Denver jury found him guilty of conspiracy and murder, and he was sentenced to death. In 2000, McVeigh abandoned his last attempt to avoid the death sentence. Just over a week before his death however, he appealed for a stay of execution, but it too was rejected and he was executed by lethal injection in 2001.

Early Life

Timothy McVeigh was raised in Pendleton, New York, a typical working class town. Pastimes were high school football and church bingo. Parents divorced after a rocky marriage. Tim went to live with his father and became increasing close to his grandfather, who introduced him to guns. It was during this time that he read The Turner Diaries, and anti-government tome by neo-Nazi William Pierce. The book described a bombing of a federal building and fueled McVeigh’s paranoia about a government plot to repeal the Second Amendment.

Tall and skinny, Tim was bullied in high school. After graduation in 1986, he earned a partial scholarship to a business school, but soon dropped out. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a model soldier earning the Bronze Star for bravery in the Persian Gulf War. A candidate for Special Forces, he dropped out after only two days, soured on the military. He was discharged in 1991.

Returning to New York, Timothy McVeigh worked the gun show circuit selling, weapons and preaching the evils of the government. He periodically spent time with army buddies Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier who shared McVeigh’s passion for guns and hatred of government.

Events that ignited McVeigh’s Anger

Two events involving the FBI acting against separatists, further fueled Timothy McVeigh’s anger toward the government. In the summer of 1992, white separatist Randy Weaver was engaged in a standoff with government agents at his cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. He was suspected of selling illegal sawed-off shotguns. The siege resulted in the death of Weaver’s son and wife. Then, in April, 1993, federal agents surrounded the compound of the Branch Davidians to arrest their leader David Koresh on illegal weapons charges. On April 19, McVeigh watched on television with millions of other Americans as the FBI stormed the compound resulting in a firestorm that killed dozens of Branch Davidians, including children.

The Plot is Conceived

Beginning in September, 1994, Timothy McVeigh began the plot to destroy the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. With accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, McVeigh acquired several tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and gallons of fuel oil to form a highly volatile explosive. McVeigh chose the Murrah federal building because it provided excellent camera angles for media coverage. He wanted to make this attack a platform for his anti-government message.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound, Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck loaded with the explosive substance in front of the Murray building. People were coming to work and on the second floor, children were arriving at the day-care center. At 9:02 am, the explosion ripped the entire north wall off the building, destroying all 10 floors. More than 300 other buildings in the immediate area were damaged or destroyed. In the rubble were 168 victims, including 19 young children, and 684 wounded people.

Arrest, Trial and Execution

Early reports suggested that a Middle Eastern terrorist group may have been responsible, but within days, Timothy McVeigh was considered the primary suspect. Hours after the blast, he and Terry Nichols were pulled over by Oklahoma state police for a license plate violation. The officer discovered McVeigh was carrying an illegally concealed handgun. He was arrested and jailed pending trial on the gun charge. Once the connection to the bombing was made, McVeigh and Nichols were turned over to federal authorities and the two were indicted for the bombing on August, 1995. McVeigh’s month-long trial began in April, 1997 and he was convicted after 23 hours of deliberation. Two years later, he was sentenced to death. Nichols was found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison.

While on death row, Timothy McVeigh was interviewed for a biography American Terrorist”, by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck. McVeigh spoke of the bombing with some pride, though he expressed regret at the death of the children describing them as “collateral damage.” On June 11, 2001, after declining any more appeals, federal prison authorities placed a needle in Timothy McVeigh’s right leg and pumped a deadly stream of drugs into his veins. He died within minutes and his body was cremated.  

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