President Clinton & the Oklahoma City Bombing: Speech & Facts

Instructor: Katie Streit

Katie has a PhD in History. She has taught middle school English and college History.

In this lesson, we will investigate why the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, who was affected, and how the guilty parties were brought to justice. We will also learn about President Bill Clinton's response to the attack.

Imagine that you are sitting at your work desk having a meeting with eight of your employees. One minute you are all talking and the next moment you are thrown onto the floor. When you look around, you realize that portions of your wall and ceiling are gone. Your colleagues have vanished. This is what happened to Florence Rogers when her office building in Oklahoma City was bombed on April 19, 1995. Whereas Florence survived the blast, her eight colleagues and 160 other men, women, and children died in the explosion. In this lesson, we will learn more about the Oklahoma City bombing. We will pay especial attention to American President Bill Clinton's responses to the attack.

The field of empty chairs

The OKC Bombing

At 9:02 am CST on April 19, 1995 a rental truck filled with nearly 5,000 pounds of explosives detonated outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The bomb destroyed a third of the nine-story building and damaged more than 300 nearby buildings. Of the 168 people killed in the attack, 19 were children. The youngest victim was four months old. The blast also injured more than 500 people. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considered the attack to be the 'worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation's history.'

Aerial view of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building
Aerial View

President Clinton's Reaction

President Clinton addressed the nation that evening and described the attack as 'an act of cowardice, and it was evil.' He vowed that the Federal government would find the individuals responsible and 'justice will be swift, certain, and severe.' He then ordered three actions:

  1. Deploying a crisis management team to Oklahoma City to solve the murders.
  2. Declaring a state of emergency in Oklahoma City.
  3. Setting up precautions to protect other Federal facilities.

In addition, President Clinton called upon all Americans to pray for the victims and their families.

First responders after the explosion


FBI agents quickly identified the perpetrator of the bombing to be an ex-Army soldier and security guard named Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh allegedly wanted revenge against the Federal government after 76 people died during a raid by federal agents on a compound in Waco, Texas two years earlier. He targeted the Murray building because it housed fourteen Federal agencies.

When FBI agents began searching for McVeigh, they found him already in prison. An Oklahoma State Trooper arrested McVeigh just hours after the bombing for driving without a license plate and carrying a concealed weapon. FBI agents also determined that McVeigh's friend - Terry Nichols - helped build the bomb. Michael Fortier was also aware of the plot and sold guns that helped finance it.

The Oklahoma City bombing

Message of Healing

President Clinton proclaimed Sunday, April 23, 1995 as a National Day of Mourning throughout the United States. President Clinton and First Lady Hillary R. Clinton attended the Memorial Service in Oklahoma City on that day. During his address, President Clinton pledged to Oklahomans that the Nation would 'do all we can to help you heal the injured, to rebuild this city, and to bring to justice those who did this evil.' He also called upon all Americans to teach their children to stand against fear, hatred, and violence.

The fence

The Children

President and First Lady Clinton repeatedly expressed their concern for American children following the bombing. They aimed to reassure children that it was normal to feel frightened after the event, but that they should be confident that most adults were good people who loved and wanted to protect them. They also encouraged American children to speak to adults about their concerns and consider sending a letter, picture, or toy to the children in Oklahoma City. In August 1995, President Clinton established the President's OKC Scholarship Fund to provide for the educational needs of the children whose parent(s) died or were severely disabled due to the bombing.

Trials and Verdicts

Timothy McVeigh was convicted on 11 counts of murder, conspiracy, and using a weapon of mass destruction on June 2, 1997. Afterward, President Clinton expressed pride in the work done by the prosecutors and investigators, and he pledged his continued support to the victims' families. McVeigh was later sentenced to death, and was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.

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