Week of Remembrance: April 19, Waco and Oklahoma City

In continuing with my “week of remembrance” series, unfortunately today marks the anniversary of two absolutely terrible tragedies: the end of the 73-day “Waco Siege” and also the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

I mentioned the Waco Siege a few months ago when I did a response to the series done by CNN called, “Crimes of the Century.” I did not go into much detail then about it, and I still do not want to go to much detail here, but since we are remembering what happened on this day 21 years ago, it may be appropriate for me to put my personal feelings about the matter aside.

It started in February of 1993, when it was somehow discovered that a “cult” in Waco, Texas known as the Branch Davidians (a sect of the Seventh Day Adventists) were stocking up on illegal automatic weapons as well as using underaged girls as “spouses” for the sect’s leader, David Koresh (thus resulting in statutory rape among other illegal activities when minors are involved). Once ATF became involved in what they were doing in their compound known as “Mount Carmel”, a simple raid on the compound was all that it intended to be — the goal being to obtain the weapons that were illegal in the United States. Sadly, this turned into a 73-day operation that blew so far out of proportion for what law enforcement intended it to be — a raid. Koresh refused to surrender and this resulted in military tanks being brought onto the compound, and a few law enforcement officers loosing their lives at the unexpected extreme backlash by the Branch Davidians.

It is unknown to this day who fired the first shot that ended up in the firefight between law enforcement (by this point, the Attorney General and FBI were involved) and the Branch Davidians (namely Koresh), though the ending was something that I believe no one could have ever expected. Tear gas was thrown into the compound as an attempt to get Koresh and the rest of his followers he held hostage with him out of the building, but instead, a fire erupted and ultimately 76 of the Branch Davidians lost their lives, including 33-year-old David Koresh and his many children.


 

Ironically enough, a man sat on the hood of his truck on the outside of the compound watching the siege unfold each day. That man was Timothy McVeigh, just 25-years-old at the time of the siege. He became incredibly outraged at the “government’s actions” regarding the Branch Davidian’s along with the issue of gun rights for Americans. He had already served in the Army in the Gulf War, and in the documentary, “The McVeigh Tapes” he describes a moment of shooting multiple people from far range (he was trained as a sniper) and remembering something changing inside of him and he watched through the gun his shots take the lives of his targets. It was more than just him fighting for his country — it had become something deeply personal. He decided it was time to do something to “get back” at the government for what they had done, namely in the Waco Siege.

Terribly, he recruits two fellow soldiers, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, to assist in the making of the bombs. He says, in the documentary (which is just recordings, no actual video), that he wanted to hit a place where he could kill as many government workers as possible to teach them a lesson, that way more of the government could feel the effect of his actions, so he says. So, he picked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. On the day of the bombing, April 19, 1995, he drove a Ryder truck with the bombs he, Nichols, and Fortier assembled (using their military intelligence, nonetheless) near the entrance of the building, calmly walked away, moments later setting it off with an explosion. A car with no license plate was parked for him blocks away and he said he purposefully did not put a license plate on the car because he wanted to be pulled over and he wanted to the government to use as much of their resources as possible looking for him. (Which they did — he was pulled over later and put into jail where he could see everything regarding the bombing unfold on a television.)

The Oklahoma City bombing was the largest terrorist attack our country had ever seen — 168 people were killed and nearly 500 more were injured. All the while, McVeigh sat in a jail cell, pleased with what he had done. It was absolutely sickening to hear his own words regarding how satisfied the bombing made him. He had no remorse for anyone who lost a loved one and felt absolutely no responsibility or pain for them, even in his final moments before his execution in 2001. (Which, by the way, he ultimately wanted for himself so he could be a “use” to spend as much of the government’s money and resources as possible.)

Timothy McVeigh was, without a doubt, a sincerely disturbed person. However, in watching this documentary, I could see what a smart, brilliant man he was, ultimately using his intelligence for the worst, not the better. He could have been so much more in his life, but one decision, one instant, one thought changed his entire fate. He could have been such an asset to the military and could have been so successful, had he not made that choice to take the road that he took, resulting in his own death along with the death of so many innocent others. It really is too bad.

I visited the Oklahoma City memorial when we lived there — sometime between 1999 and the summer of 2001 (pre-9/11), and though I was really young when the bombing happened, I remember it, and seeing this memorial was one of the most sober experiences a teenager could have. It was incredibly beautiful and such a great tribute to all of the lives lost that day in such a senseless act. It was amazing to see, even five to six years later, so many flowers and gifts left on the “chairs” that represent each one of the victims. The workers told us that there are so many flowers and gifts left that they literally have to go around every day and collect them, otherwise there would be too much flooding the memorial. It was such a great testimony to the good that still exists in the world, despite the terrible evil that got into McVeigh and caused him to do such a terrible thing.

The beautiful memorial “chairs” at night, where the building once stood. (via OKC bombing memorial site)
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