Twenty years ago, on 19 April 1995, a disaffected veteran named Timothy McVeigh drove a Ryder truck stuffed with explosives into downtown Oklahoma City and destroyed a federal office building, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and maiming hundreds of others. That much we know.
We also know that, within 90 minutes of the bombing, McVeigh was pulled over near the Kansas border and arrested, alone, at the wheel of a glaringly improbable getaway car, an ancient, spluttering rust bucket of a Mercury sedan with no licence plates, which made him a sitting duck for any passing highway patrolman.
How could such a callous, carefully planned attack have come to such an incongruously slapdash end? After a vast investigation headed by the FBI, three trials mounted against McVeigh and his co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, and an avalanche of court documents, there is still no definitive answer to that question.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the Oklahoma City bombing – by far the most destructive act perpetrated by a home-grown assailant against fellow Americans – is not how much we’ve learned over the past 20 years but rather how much we still do not know.
Despite the government’s insistence that the case has been solved, we don’t know the exact origin of the plot or how many people carried it out. The federal indictment against McVeigh and Nichols – the latter fronted the money and did most of the bomb’s construction for McVeigh – made specific mention of “others unknown”, and when their trials were almost over, the presiding judge publicly urged the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to keep investigating. The plea fell largely on deaf ears.