tv Oral Histories Oklahoma City Bombing FBI Interviews CSPAN April 20, 2020 10:06pm-10:35pm EDT
building in oklahoma city. in 2015, to mark the 20th anniversary of the bombing, the fbi recorded a series of interviews with special agents, investigators, a survivor, and others. next on american history tv, seven of these oral histories as edited by the we didn't open till 9:00. we were open until five every day. the credit union was a place everybody could go in there. the credit union and the snack bar. so we were constantly inundated with people coming into visit or drawing a little money for lunch or apply for a loan.
everybody was at the credit union. i got there as early as i could that morning and i had my vacation pictures from the week before. i was going to share those with these gals. we did not get started on this meeting until about 8:20. i would turn around and look at my computer screen at the next item we were to discuss. i leaned back in my chair and let them discuss who was going to copy this or get this ready so they could hurry with their audit. i turned around in my chair and
kind of rared back to discuss the next item, when the bomb went off. it had to be longer but it was like seconds. all of the girls in the office with me had disappeared. i thought they had ran out and left me alone. i started hollering, where are you guys? then a realization set in somewhat. i realized that i don't know where they are, they are gone. eventually i found out that when the bomb went up and everything started coming down, the seven floors above us had took them into what was eventually known as the pit. there was a silence that fell
over the the scene. the papers were still fluttering. when the glass and stuff stopped -- there was glass found on buildings, blocks away, everywhere. but there was this eerie silence that was something. i had been thrown on the floor and packed into my spot with the stuff packed around me. i found out later there was only like 18 inches of the exterior wall that did not break away, which kind of helped me. but my desk was sitting at an angle, ready to topple over into this hole the bomb had made where my employees had landed. my first thought was it
probably had to be a gas explosion of some kind. later on, they started saying bomb and that was shocking. i have been asked this by quite a few people, what was your first thought when you saw this stuff going up and the whole building blowing up before you? my answer to that was i always hated movies where they blow up perfectly good buildings and bridges and there is so much of that now in the movies and i don't like that. i never did. my first thought literally was oh my gosh, this is like a bad movie. at got to get out of here. i am asked that a lot, did you get mad? my answer has always been, i did not let myself get angry because it would have only hurt if i got angry.
it caused a lot of changes in my life. i retired early. earlier than i anticipated. it has never gone away. those 18that i lost had worked for me 28 years total. they were like my daughters, some of them. some of them had worked for me decades. it hurts to see their families and to know that here i am having great grandbabies and those families won't ever have that opportunity. so it did change my life a lot.
the man upstairs wasn't through with me yet. it has been 20 years and at the time of the bombing, i was 59 years old. you can do your math. [laughter] it let me live long enough to see my hair turn gray and have three great grandbabies. and do some things other than just my job. you never know when you will not come home from an ordinary day of work. i usually close my remarks when i am giving my story to people, my advice is don't ever miss an opportunity to tell those you love that you love them, because you never know when you might not come home from that ordinary day. >> you look at this, you show up on the scene like that and
clearly it is huge. i was in waco during the first trade center bombing. as a bomb technician, you keep track of those sorts of things. this was clearly from inception a unique and major event. how it tied into timothy mcveigh's perception of waco and linking those together was unusual. which we learned later on. the scope of it from the time i drove up was obvious. i was there around nine: 30, 9: 35, very early on. the fires were still burning. i remember the site assessment was just to get an idea of what went on and you could see people trapped in the upper floors of the the firefighters
were putting fires out, and there were a lot of walking wounded. it is emotional but there is a lot to do. it's not that you are not empathetic or sympathetic, but you have to push through that to get to the job at hand. i can't help somebody as a paramedic could, or the firefighting apparatus, everybody has a specialty. you have to rely on other first responders to take care of their part and they presume i will do my part. we were on site a lot. the red cross would bring out something hot to eat on occasion, because really it was difficult to leave. but it was all most like the world was going on outside that
bubble. my wife has told me that friends and people i had not heard from in a long time would call the house just to see how she was doing, how i was doing. there would be a call on the media for boots or gloves and they would show up by the truckload. there was a building not far from the murrah building that was full of supplies. over the years, i talked with urban rescue folks from other states, and i remember today, 20 years later, they could not buy a cup of coffee. they would go into a restaurant to eat before going to sleep for a little bit, and there would be told someone else already paid for the meal or it is on the house. it has become now known as the oklahoma standard. it was moving. they would do these one hour television -- you see these one hour television shows where
they solve complicated crimes. that was not the case. this involved over 8000 man-hours, 1400 people working 14 hour days to come up with the volume of information in the case. looking back over the years, it was a very thorough and protected -- protracted investigation. i made trips to denver during the trial. it is hard on your family and the victims and everybody. i am proud that things worked as they should. the system was followed and every but he got a fair trial. -- and everybody got a fair trial. things worked as they should. >> initially it categorized as a bombing. i did not know the size of it. as i was talking to my asac, one of the things he brought up was bob, you know what today
was? i was like, what do you mean? he said, today is april 19, which was the last day of the standoff at waco. that immediately set off antenna that we had probably a reprisal that had taken place as a result of the waco situation. the first thing we were doing was literally setting up another fbi field office. from the basic infrastructure of getting telephones together, trying to get together a records management system, coordinating with the fire department to get our evidence response teams on the ground to seal off the inner perimeter, to have an outer perimeter to have control of the press as to
how we will handle messaging. you are really starting on was from the ground up building this infrastructure necessary to respond. at the same time, integrating all of these various agencies from local police and local fire, local sheriffs. federal agencies, all in this process, and setting up a structure that hopefully would last. when i got through with the meeting with the chief of police and chief of the fire department. they said it clear is a terrorist event. the fbi will be here to give you whatever support you need and good luck and then we went back to whatever we were doing. i kind of stood in front of that building by myself a while and all i could think was lord, this is overwhelming and where do you start? i basically said a prayer.
obviously i can't make it right but hopefully we can find justice in the process. >> we found out that oklahoma highway patrol trooper had made an inquiry on timothy mcveigh within about 90 minutes of the bombing. we had one of the people working on our task force, an atf agent contact the highway patrol and identify the person who's badge number was on the inquiry. -- person whose badge number was on the inquiry. he found out the badge number belonged to a trooper named charlie hanger. once we had his name, we had someone contact him and they found out he had been heading south toward oklahoma city based on the highway patrol dispatcher call for all available troopers to head to oklahoma city to assist. he had gotten a discontinue.
he was about 62 miles north of oklahoma city and he turned around and the median on interstate 35. as he started to head back north, he is passed by this yellow mercury marquis missing a rear license plate. he pulled the car over and the driver gets out of the car and hanger has to order him to stay by the door of his car. hanger gets out and tells the guy to back up toward him, and as mcveigh is backing toward him, he notices mcveigh has a bulge under his jacket. he reaches out and grabs it, and mcveigh says it is a gun and it is loaded. he relieved mcveigh of his gun, which was loaded with the rounds that can shoot through an armored vest.
once he had that gun and a kbar knife mcveigh had on his person, he took mcveigh in custody and took him to the jail and perry, oklahoma. our investigator asked hanger what happened to him. he said i don't know, he may still be in custody or not. one of our investigators contacted sheriff jerry cook and talked to him and he said mcveigh is in custody but he has to be released within probably an hour. so we put a federal hold on him. at that point, myself and several other agents got into helicopter and flew up to perry. when we got up there, myself and another agent interviewed the different people that had been in mcveigh's cell, asking him questions. has he said anything, did he comment about the bombing or
anything of that nature? they said no, he was just listening to the radio that was giving updates about the bombing. finally, mcveigh was brought into an office that sheriff cook gave us, and i asked mcveigh, do you know why we are here? he said, that thing in oklahoma city, i guess. i said, what do you mean by that? and he said, that bombing. i want an attorney. but one of the really beneficial things of trooper hanger taking him into custody was the fact that when they lodged him in the noble county jail, they collected all of his clothing and put it in paper bags. when we sent that clothing back to the fbi laboratory and they did a chemical analysis, they determined he was basically the explosive equivalent of a
powdered sugar donut. he had it all over his clothing. five years after the bombing, i brought my wife and children to the dedication ceremony of the memorial. we could have gone in with clinton, but we chose to go in with the victims. i wasn't prepared for the emotional impact that hit me when we walked in there and i saw the people who had lost kids putting stuffed animals and flowers on the little seats. there are big seats for adults and little seats for the kids. when they went in there and put the stuffed animals and flowers on the little seats, i could not talk. i just kind of walked on the hill by myself for a few minutes until i composed
myself. but it was so sad, what happened with those kids. it is still the defining moment in oklahoma city. when you try to talk about when something happened, it was before the bombing or after the bombing. it is a measure of time like bc and ad. throughout the country, stories went in all directions and they stopped having that, but oklahoma city did. >> it led in small degree to my joining the bureau is my reaction to dealing with this event and the reaction of other team members, most of them firefighters, after the shock of seeing the extent of the
damage, which was far greater than the television or newspapers portrayed the next reaction was -- portrayed. the next reaction was anger, compounded by the realization that this was a homegrown, domestic incident. without going into the details of the remains we were covered, because to this day we like to avoid that, i do remember very clearly that the first time our team was in that position of recovering remains, there was a pause, and then one of the firefighters commenting in very salty language, ok let's do this right, let's do this carefully, and the gist of what he said was, let's be sure that whoever did this is brought to justice. i spent a number of days in this environment, as i
mentioned before, rapidly transitioning between the impression that i really would have preferred to be somewhere else, and immediately thereafter realizing i did not want to be anywhere else and this was probably one of the most important things i had ever done in my career. recently reading some of the quotes in the news at the time, some of which were quotes of me, i was struck by the fact that i was thinking in terms of that terrorism is a crime and it should be approached as such, and we have all of the laws and capabilities that we apply to murder, and we should apply that to mass murder. the more i thought about this, the more i thought that after a decade of fixing what people broke and working in a trauma
center, you get a lot of experience in dealing with victims of violent crime. now dealing with the aftermath of domestic terrorism, it began to occur to me, as it often does to physicians of a certain age, that preventing injury is in some ways a more important and more interesting task than dealing with the aftermath. when an opportunity came along to join the fbi, those thoughts were very much in my mind. >> i think is very tangible. one of the things you become acutely aware of, you can talk to a small child or a very elderly person in oklahoma, and what you will find, even though their way of expressing it will be vastly different, they will
have an awareness. it seems to be a salient, horrific memory regardless of the age group you talk to. if it is a child and they were not born at that time, it is almost like it was passed on. the schools, they are educated in it, they have toured the memorial and they know it is part of their existence as oklahomans. it seems like it tragically changed the life of every oklahoman on a public and a personal level. regardless of who you talk to.
but what you realize from that is they are resilient people. it is one of the things you will not find law enforcement take lightly. when we go around the state and we talked to our law enforcement partners about terrorism, whether it is international terrorism or domestic terrorism, they have an acute awareness. they may never have left the state of oklahoma, but when you talk about terrorism, they think of timothy mcveigh and p nichols. they think of the 168 people who perished, who came to the
murrah federal building and never went home. and they don't want that to happen again. >> the memorial is really built to remember those who were killed, to help them survive forever. it's about lessons learned and how we call the information together so we hope we can prevent or teach against future acts. we think with that remembering you are more likely to repeat the same -- by doing these things, you can change lives. we want to encourage people of all ages to work together within the law, if they want to change something in the law set forth. we have seen that done and it is a big part of our mission.
we want kids to understand the role the fbi had in the story and how an ordinary patrolman doing his job did it really well. and how this one circumstance had the force government agencies of all levels to work together, city, state, federal. and the interagency work. i think that is a life lesson that we try to teach and show clearly for people. a government building was attacked in order to defeat the government and what happened was a unity like none we have seen. people came together and worked together and said the government will survive, and agencies reopened and people worked together. even when people try to bring down the government that we believe in, we will survive,