An analysis of raw news footage and reports in the immediate aftermath of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City, Okla., shows local television reporters stating repeatedly that two additional, sophisticated, undetonated explosive devices were found by investigators on the scene.
The television reports raise questions about the official government version of events that an “extremist” and his friend acted alone, using a Ryder rental truck and a 1,200-pound ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, or ANFO, bomb to destroy the face of the building.
For example, initial news broadcasts by KWTV-9, KFOR TV-5 and Channel 4 News all feature reports confirmed by state, local and federal officials that a total of three bombs had been placed inside the Murrah building.
TV news footage showed Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad vehicles being brought to the scene within a half-hour of the explosion, “amid reports” that “more bombs have been found” by rescuers.
Also, reporters at the scene confirmed that the two other bombs were larger than the first one, and that the bomb that had exploded blew up inside — not outside — the building.
Reports said the other two bombs were found on the east and west sides of the building; the explosion occurred at the front, or north side, of the building.
In one clip, the medical director for St. Anthony’s Hospital told reporters that local OKC police had informed him that rescue efforts had been called off temporarily “because of the other bombs found in the building. …”
And, TV-9 reported that “the U.S. Justice Department has confirmed” that other bombs were found in the structure.
In subsequent reports, within the first few hours of the explosion, news crews were reporting that federal and local authorities had confirmed that the two other explosives had been “defused” and “moved off site.”
The ‘lone’ suspects
Timothy McVeigh, now 32, was convicted in 1997 for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing, and is scheduled to be executed by the government May 16 at a federal prison facility in Terre Haute, Ind.
The Justice Department said Friday that bombing survivors and victims’ families would be able to view the execution via closed-circuit television. He will be the first federal prisoner executed in 36 years. In 1997, he was convicted in the bombing deaths of 168 people, including 19 children.
McVeigh has said he bombed the Murrah building in retaliation for the FBI’s raid on a Branch Davidian religious facility April 19, 1993, in Waco, Texas, which led to a fire that killed 80 men, women and children.
McVeigh said he did it to give the federal government “dirty for dirty.”
Meanwhile, Terry Nichols, also convicted in 1997 as an accomplice in the OKC attack, is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison. But he also faces Oklahoma state charges of capital murder pressed by prosecutors who have pledged to seek the death penalty.
Early news reports indicated government sources were saying that “bombs were brought into” the Murrah building, and that because they were able to find undetonated devices, authorities would be able to “find out who is responsible” for the bombing.
In one clip, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating also confirmed the presence of other explosives.
“The reports I have are that one device was deactivated … [and] apparently, there was another device. Whatever did the damage to the Murrah building was a tremendous … a very sophisticated explosive device. …” Keating was heard saying.
One TV news report then said that then-President Bill Clinton “has called Gov. Keating … and said three FBI anti-terrorist teams” were being sent from Washington, D.C., to OKC, ostensibly to investigate the incident. The report further stated that “the White House and Justice Department … have said [the bombing] was the work of a sophisticated group … and would have to have been carried out by an explosives expert.”
McVeigh and Nichols were not explosives experts, critics of the government’s official version of events point out.
Later in the day and into the next day, details of the official explanations and information that had been witnessed or confirmed early on by news organizations, reporters and authorities handling the rescue efforts began to change.
Within 24 hours, federal officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were saying that the explosion had not occurred within the building itself but instead the damage had been caused by a “car” parked in front of the building, loaded with the ANFO bomb. Soon afterward, the “car” became a Ryder rental truck and the explosives grew in size, to about 4,500 pounds.
Also, officials began to discount the second- and third bomb story, instead focusing only on the outside, north-face explosion as the one and only explosive source at the entire complex.
At one point, news reports began to suggest that officials believed the outside explosion was intended to set off the other explosions inside, but witness statements began to be reported that would refute the single-bomb claim.
Witnesses interviewed by local TV affiliates said they felt the Murrah building “shake and shift” for several seconds before “glass blew in” on top of them. One witness said he saw the ceiling collapse as he dove under his desk, “several seconds before the glass came in at me.”
Experts began to theorize that the ANFO bomb in the Ryder truck was indeed integral to what happened, but not as Washington said. Rather, they theorized that the ANFO explosion — which came after the internal explosion — was intended to mask that first explosion and gave the government plausibility for its single-bomb-outside-the-structure version of events; the version that eventually became widely accepted.
In the years following the bombing, independent investigators, journalists and bomb experts have studied the available evidence and found new evidence to suggest the earliest reports of what happened just over six years ago were probably the most accurate.
For instance, one particular website has published official government documents and statements that substantiate the 3-bomb reports first aired by local television news.
A Department of Defense Atlantic Command memo, issued one day after the bombing, says “… a second bomb was disarmed; a third bomb was evacuated. …”
A Federal Emergency Management Agency “SitRep” (situational report), dated April 20, 1995, also confirms the presence of three bombs inside the building. And a U.S. Forces Command daily log report from the same day said: “Two more explosive devices were located vicinity the explosion site. Evidently intended for the rescuers.”
Finally, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol radio log said, “OC Fire Dept. confirms they did find a second device in the bldg/OK. …”
Also, independent engineers, explosives experts and military analysts conducted studies of the available evidence, many concluding that the government’s “single truck-single bomb” explanation was technically impossible.
Perhaps one of the most dominant of these was conducted by Brig. Gen. Ben K. Partin, a retired Air Force officer with decades of military experience in the design of explosives and warheads.
His exhaustive study, completed July 30, 1995 — less than three months after the bombing — also concluded that explosive charges, or “demolitions,” were most likely placed inside the structure at key points designed to “bring the building down. …”
Coming to closure
Despite those early reports and later studies that appear to substantiate the information contained in them, federal prosecutors and the FBI were resolute in discounting much of it when the case went to trial. Instead, the Justice Department’s cases were entirely built on McVeigh, Nichols, and the Ryder truck bomb theory.
Even though McVeigh is scheduled to be executed in just a few short weeks, and even if Nichols ends up with a similar fate, there will always be questions from some who remain convinced — as those early reporters were — that something other than Washington’s official version really happened that fateful day in 1995.
Many questions will probably never be answered, however. The Murrah building was demolished two weeks after the attack; the site was covered with dirt and the building materials were trucked to an off-site dump manned by armed guards and buried.
Further independent analysis of the materials was not, and has not, been permitted.
Other questions still nag critics of the government case:
Two weeks after the bombing, Time and Newsweek magazines both ran “artist’s conceptions” of the “immense 30-foot crater” allegedly left by the Ryder truck bomb. But news footage in the aftermath of the bombing showed no such crater.
Domestic anti-terrorist bills were stalled in Congress before the bombing, but sailed through to become law shortly afterward.
Witnesses reported seeing three men in the parking garage of the Murrah building (it had nine stories above ground and had a four-floor parking garage underneath) working with “electrical equipment and pointing at various parts of the garage in the days before the attack. Many survivors reported that some of these men were dressed in Government Services Administration uniforms but had never seen them before or since.
An independent aerial photo was taken of a Ryder truck the size used in the attack parked at an Army facility near Camp Gruber-Braggs, Okla., outside of OKC, in the days leading up to the attack.
One London journalist, Ambrose Evans Pritchard, uncovered evidence that suggested the entire OKC bombing was a government sting operation gone awry. BATF and FBI officials were working on a case involving a “Christian Identity” group prone to violence and plotting the OKC attack, operating out of Elohim City, Okla., but failed to arrest them before the bombing occurred.