Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing 1995

on April 15, 2020

Oklahoma City bombing

Photo by By Staff Sergeant Preston Chasteen – Defense Imagery

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is considered “the deadliest and most destructive act of domestic terrorism” in American history. Using a fertilizer bomb which cost around $5,000, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols partially collapsed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and “destroyed or damaged 324 buildings in a 16 block radius.” The glass shattered in another 258 buildings in a radius of 55 miles. Damages were estimated at $650 million. Deaths totaled 168 people, including 19 children in the building’s daycare center, and injured around 700 people.

The event did not affect Oklahoma City alone. The small town of Kingman, Arizona, the Mohave County seat, was suddenly catapulted into the national news when it came out that Timothy McVeigh had been living in Kingman just months before the bombing. His Army friend, Michael Fortier, helped him to plan the bombing. When the FBI raided his mobile home, they found over 100 detonators.

How do I know this? I live outside Kingman, Arizona. And Timothy McVeigh had lived in the Kingman area on and off for several years. He was an occupant at a particular motel in Kingman. He worked at a local True Value hardware store. At one time, he worked at a well-known casino in Laughlin, Nevada. My husband, who was a Pit Boss at the time, knew him as a fellow employee. McVeigh drove an old yellow Buick which I saw drive by our house on more than one occasion.

Timothy McVeigh had become friendly with well-known pro-gun, anti-government activists in the area. A few months before the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma bombings, strange things were happening around Kingman, Arizona.

A large fertilizer explosive device was exploded out in the remote desert near the living ghost town of Oatman, which has never been explained or solved. At least 2 bomb threats were called in to Black Mountain Elementary School in Golden Valley. The perpetrators were never caught.

After the Oklahoma City bombing occurred on April 19, 1995 (the two year anniversary of the end of the Waco, Texas stand-off), the FBI descended onto Kingman to investigate the Kingman connection. Residents responded to this invasion by selling T-shirts which read, “I Survived the FBI.” In spite of their presence and the investigation, I have always believed that some of the conspirators got away. They simply disappeared underground.

Could the Oklahoma City bombing have been prevented? Probably not. There was no way to predict that the strange happenings around Kingman would lead to such a major man-made disaster. They appeared to be random events. But hindsight suggests that they could have been exercises conducted by the conspirators, leading up to the BIG EVENT.

One thing is certain: “the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 . . . raised the issue of America’s preparedness for terrorism events.” Since emergency management as a discipline deals with risks, the avoidance of risks, and the consequences of risks, it made sense to include terrorism under the big umbrella.

FEMA was an independent agency then which had grown in status and importance under President Bill Clinton. As a result, the agency was able to respond to the bombing within 45 minutes of notification of the event. Section 501(b) of the Stafford Act gives FEMA primary authority to respond to a domestic disaster, and this authority was exercised for the first time with the Oklahoma City bombing. FEMA coordinated with the FBI to preserve and control the crime site. This experience helped to clarify responsibilities and authority in future disasters.

Oklahoma was well-prepared for the disaster. The immediate response was to publicly request the assistance of all medical personnel in the area. Volunteers and volunteer organizations, such as the American Red Cross, arrived to help. Hospitals set up triage stations. Local law enforcement and EMS personnel utilized their excellent training. The state of Oklahoma had already worked hard to perfect coordination between the Public Works Department, the National Weather Service, and the National Guard. The Department of Public Safety had already developed a strong disaster plan. The entire state was involved in responding to the disaster. This has been dubbed the Oklahoma Standard.

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, FEMA created Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities which asked communities “to identify risks and establish a plan to reduce those risks.” This kind of community-based action is exactly what is needed to mitigate (prevent) events from happening and to keep communities prepared to respond effectively after the event has happened.

Source: Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency

       management. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier Inc.

Dawn Pisturino

August 13, 2019

Copyright 2019-2020 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.


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