Yesterday was April 19th and marked the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City where 168 people, including 19 children were killed. A year after the bombing on the eve of my appointment to photograph Timothy McVeigh, who was later convicted of the crime, I visited the site and made these following photographs.
The ruins of the building had been mostly removed. Memorials in the form of wooden crosses, made from splintered fragments left by the bombing, dotted the fence surrounding the site.
Across the street from where the front of the Murrah Building once stood, the ruins of another building destroyed by McVeigh’s bomb still stood.
It was said McVeigh was motivated by the events that took place two years earlier, also on April 19th, in 1993, when federal troops stormed the Branch Davidian compound where followers of David Koresh had been under siege by the FBI since February of that year. On that awful day 76 people were killed, including Koresh.
I also visited that site, trying to make some sense of what happened. The scenes were no less appalling than what I had seen in Oklahoma City.
Walking through this place and over the rubble of where only a few years earlier hundreds had lived and worshiped was a powerful experience. I left with no better understanding of how something like that can happen in a supposed civil society.
The day I photographed McVeigh left me even more baffled and saddened. I found him to be intelligent and upbeat and he seemed utterly remorseless. I’ve long been an opponent of the death penalty, but I shed no tears from Timothy McVeigh when he was executed in 2001.
These events twenty and more years ago share striking and frightening parallels to events happening today. Heavily armed anti-government militias continue to attract more followers, as evidenced by the standoff in Nevada between supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, and BLM officials and police just last year.
Meanwhile police continue to kill unarmed citizens at a terrifying rate, and quell protesters with military grade weaponry.
And each year I hold my breath on April 19th, praying something terrible won’t happen again.