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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Profile: Timothy McVeigh
The Oklahoma federal building
The bomb killed 168 people and injured hundreds more
Timothy McVeigh has shown no remorse for the 1995 Oklahoma bombing which killed 168 people and injured more than 500. BBC News Online's Lucy Walker profiles the former US army marksman who carried out the worst peacetime attack on US soil.

In the hours after the Oklahoma bombing, commentators first suspected it was the work of a fundamentalist Middle Eastern terrorist group.

But an FBI agent named Clinton Van Zandt was closer to the truth.

He had been the FBI's chief hostage negotiator at Waco and recognised the significance of the date - 19 April 1995. It was two years to the day since federal troops ended a 51-day siege at a Branch Davidian sect compound near Waco, Texas, in which 82 people died.

Timothy McVeigh
McVeigh: An "outstanding" soldier
Van Zandt is quoted as saying then that the bomber would turn out to be a white male, acting alone, or with one other person, and in his mid-20s.

He would have military experience and be angry at the government for what happened at Waco.

Van Zandt was right.

Solid student

Timothy McVeigh was born in 1968 and grew up the middle of three children in a conservative, rural community in Pendleton, New York, near the decaying industrial centre of Buffalo.

His father, Bill, like his father before him, worked at the General Motors radiator factory and provided conscientiously for his family, but was distant and unadventurous.

When he was 10, his mother, Mildred "Mickey" McVeigh, left home.

McVeigh says that while his sisters, then 12 and four, moved to Florida with their mother, he opted to live with his father "so he wouldn't be alone".

McVeigh was very bright, not top of his class, but a solid student.

I reached the decision to go on the offensive - to put a check on government abuse of power, where others had failed in stopping the federal juggernaut running amok

Timothy McVeigh
Classmates recall a shy, skinny youth who did not socialise much. There seems to have been only one girlfriend during his high school years.

Later, during 75 hours of interviews, he would tell journalists Lou Michael and Dan Herbeck - authors of American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing - that he always said the wrong thing to women he was trying to impress.

He left school in 1986 and dropped out of college soon after.


The economy was in a slump, the radiator factory had stopped hiring and McVeigh took a series of dead-end jobs, working in a burger bar and as a security guard in Buffalo.

He began collecting guns while still at school and after he left devoured right-wing, pro-militia magazines like Solider of Fortune and Spotlight.

Timothy McVeigh
McVeigh: Picked up for a traffic offence
An even stronger influence was The Turner Diaries, a racist, anti-Semitic novel which tells the story of a gun enthusiast who reacts against tighter gun laws and starts a revolution by packing a van with home made explosives and blowing up the FBI headquarters in Washington.

McVeigh embarked on a flirtation with the militia movement, which believes that ordinary Americans are under imminent threat of attack, from nuclear war, communists or central government.

He began to stockpile food, water and guns and in 1988 he and a friend bought 10 acres of woodland where they practised shooting and planned to build a bunker.

At 20 he joined the army - one of the reasons being, according to Michael and Herbeck, to improve his shooting and survival skills.

It gave him an environment where he could indulge his passion for guns and in many ways he became the perfect soldier.

Colleagues say he was polite, efficient and a top marksman. He kept a spare uniform just so that he could look smart at inspections and showed more interest in cleaning his collection of guns than girls or beer.

The 'perfect soldier'

In 1992 he was sent to the Gulf as a gunner, where he won praise and respect from those around him and earned both the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star.

He won a commendation for his action in shooting an Iraqi tank commander more than a mile away, armed with his favourite weapon - a small cannon.

The book says he was satisfied at hitting the target but adds McVeigh got no thrill out of the act of killing.

He admits to killing two Iraqis, but was upset at what he saw as the needless death of countless Iraqis at the end of the Gulf War.

The army, he says, taught him how to switch off his emotions.

McVeigh was tipped for promotion and on his return, he tried to join the elite Green Berets. He took a battery of IQ, personality and aptitude tests, but, out of condition from lack of exercise in the Gulf, found the physical rigours of the training camp too tough and dropped out after two days.

Disillusioned, he went back to the regular army but soon gave up and returned to live with his father.

Borrowing a page from US foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government

Timothy McVeigh

McVeigh took a series of dead-end jobs and followed gun shows across the country.

Drifting between Pendleton and the homes of his ex-army chums: Terry Nichols in Decker, Michigan; and Michael Fortier in Klingman, Arizona, he made some money selling guns at gun fairs.

There he would certainly have come into contact with anti-tax, anti-government, racist and militia groups, but there is nothing to suggest that he ever signed-up to any of them.


McVeigh was distressed by the 1992 catastrophe at Ruby Ridge - a siege and shootout where federal officials shot and killed the wife of survivalist Randy Weaver and their 14-year-old son.

But it was the storming of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco the following year that provoked him into acting on his frustrations.

McVeigh travelled to Waco to see the siege for himself and was horrified by the final showdown when federal troops fired tear gas and a massive fire engulfed the compound.

Both events have been painted by militia movements as evidence of a federal clampdown, with more to come.

While on death row, McVeigh asked a friend to pass on to a London newspaper a three-page letter detailing why he carried out the bombing.

The assault at Waco
McVeigh could not forgive the Waco assault
In the letter, entitled "Why I bombed the Murrah building", he explains that he lost patience after waiting for the government to apologise for Waco. "I reached the decision to go on the offensive - to put a check on government abuse of power, where others had failed in stopping the federal juggernaut running amok," he said.

"Borrowing a page from US foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government."

No remorse

To the end, he has been aware of his media profile.

His request to have his execution broadcast on national television was turned down, but he has been corresponding with journalists by e-mail and personally invited the writer Gore Vidal, on assignment for Vanity Fair, to witness his execution.

He has also played down the roles of his co-conspirators, although Fortier went with him to reconnoitre the building and Nichols helped make the fuel-oil and fertiliser explosives.

McVeigh emerged at his trial as intelligent and sane. He has never expressed remorse, although he has hinted that he regrets the deaths of the 19 children.

After examining him in prison, psychiatrist Dr John Smith concluded that prisoner 12076-064 was a decent person who had allowed rage to build up inside him to the point that he had lashed out in one terrible, violent act.

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