'McVeigh once was as normal as anyone'

Profile of a terrorist

Gradual change led McVeigh from 'boy next door' to Oklahoma City bomber

By Karin Grunden


Liz McDermott can still picture the lanky, teen-ager with a perm who had a big appetite but never put on a pound.

He was a typical kid who got into his share of trouble but was always polite and respectful of adults.

How this same boy - Timmy McVeigh - the trusted baby-sitter, could become Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber, is beyond McDermott's comprehension.

"It's impossible to understand how or why he did this. I never saw a Tim McVeigh that would do this," said McDermott, a former neighbor who occasionally left her children in the young man's charge.

She found it difficult putting together the McVeigh she knew and the terrible act he committed in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people.

"It's like a totally different person," she said.

What happened in McVeigh's life was no instant transformation from the boy next door to mass murderer, attorney Richard Burr said.

Instead, it was a gradual psychological and emotional reversal of his opinion of the United States - brought on by his service in the Gulf War and compounded by the federal sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.

"It was not that he went from true believer in the United States to true hater. He went from true believer to terribly disillusioned," said Burr, one of McVeigh's attorneys.
McVeigh once was as normal as anyone, Burr said.

The early years

The middle child of Bill and Mildred "Mickey" McVeigh, Timothy James McVeigh was born April 23, 1968, in Lockport, N.Y. Older sister Patty was almost 2 at the time, and younger sister Jennifer was born nearly six years later.

McVeigh began school at Starpoint Central, a kindergarten through 12th- grade school in Lockport, where he graduated in 1986.

Jerryl Mattina Kinley was a year ahead of him in school. She remembers McVeigh as a pleasant boy.

"When I think of Tim McVeigh, I picture when we were in junior high and senior high. He just seemed so quiet and so shy," said Kinley, who rode the bus with him. "He wasn't picked on, but wasn't really popular."

However, writers Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck presented another view of McVeigh, being bullied on at least three occasions - accounts McVeigh recalled as an adult.

In the book, "American Terrorist," the authors describe the earliest incident of McVeigh being "walloped" by a bigger boy who had grabbed his baseball cap. The incident left McVeigh embarrassed, and the memory stuck, according to the book.

When Tim was 11, his father and mother separated temporarily.

For a while, his sisters moved into a nearby home with their mother; Tim stayed and lived with his dad.

Five years later, his parents split for the final time.

"I think any kid is upset by parents divorcing," McDermott said, and McVeigh was no different. But McVeigh did not seem devastated, McDermott said.

McVeigh never spent a lot of time by himself, Michel said. When Bill McVeigh, an auto worker, had to work late, Tim would stay with family friends on his block of Meyer Road.

"He found community among other people, among his friends and his friends' parents," Michel said.

At 12, McVeigh filled in as baby-sitter for the two McDermott children until he and his father moved to another home in Lockport. The kids loved playing with him.

McVeigh liked comic books - "He had a great big comic book collection. I would guess over a thousand," his father said - and playing with action figures, especially Star Wars and GI Joe.

When he grew older, his grandfather, Ed McVeigh, introduced him to guns, which would become an adult passion.

McVeigh was confirmed at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Pendleton, where Bill McVeigh still attends mass. Monsignor Paul Belzer from Good Shepherd doesn't remember much about McVeigh, he just sort of blended in, he said.

Tim was never particularly religious, his father said. "We went to church. He went to church school. He made his confirmation," and then he quit going to church. "When he didn't have to go anymore, he didn't."

The real world

Although a pretty good student in high school, McVeigh graduated with little interest in attending college, Burr said.

"He was sort of aimless when he came out of high school," Burr said. McVeigh worked at some low-paying jobs before he found a job as a security guard.

It was while working at Burke Armor Inc. that McVeigh crossed paths with Jeff Camp, a fellow security guard who remembers McVeigh as intelligent, but cocky.

Occasionally, he'd show off his guns at work, and once McVeigh came in looking like Rambo, with a sawed-off shotgun in his hand and a broad belt filled with ammunition across his chest, Camp said.

"I guess he wanted attention," he said.

His superiors told him to put the gun and ammunition back in his car, and he obliged. McVeigh later told the authors of "American Terrorist" that the whole incident was a joke.

Camp, who was McVeigh's partner on an armored truck, said McVeigh talked about his parents' divorce. "He hated his mother, I think," Camp said. "He couldn't understand why there was a separation."

McVeigh, who spent time reading gun magazines as a passenger in the armored truck, also complained about paying taxes. "I know he didn't like the government much," his former co-worker recalled.

Finding little fulfillment as a security guard, McVeigh, after less than a year, joined the Army.

Army life

William David Dilly remembers his first glimpse of McVeigh during basic training in May 1988. At 20, McVeigh, who had little facial hair, was the "little skinny kid who looked like he was 15," Dilly said.

Dilly and McVeigh, both new Army recruits, served in the same COHORT unit at Fort Benning, Ga., a group of enlistees recruited together, trained together and later deployed together to the Persian Gulf War. The unit also included Decker, Mich., native Terry Nichols, who was later sentenced to life in prison for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing.

McVeigh and Nichols quickly became friends. "They were always talking," Dilly recalled.

After basic training ended in late 1988, the entire unit was sent to Fort Riley, Kan., where Dilly and McVeigh roomed together for 11 months.

"The first thing that everyone noticed about Tim was he was always squared away. He was always the first one to get everything done," Dilly said.

McVeigh quickly gained confidence in his soldiering abilities and rose through the enlisted ranks, first to corporal then to sergeant, Dilly said.

"Everything he did he was the absolute best at," Dilly said. If not, he would "get fanatical" until he was the best.

"He was trying to prove something all the time," Dilly said.
McVeigh once told a fellow soldier he joined the infantry because he liked weapons.

Dilly remembers McVeigh shooting a perfect score of 1,000 during an exercise.

"It was unbelievable," Dilly said. Of the 500 Bradley Fighting Vehicle gunners on Fort Riley, McVeigh topped the list, according to Dilly.

Impressed with his marksmanship, the Army picked McVeigh to test for the special forces, Dilly said. After passing an initial test, McVeigh spent the next six months training.

After a 12-hour day of work, McVeigh would grab his ruck-sack, stuff it with an 80-pound sandbag and haul the backpack around during a self-imposed 12- to 15-mile road march.

Then he'd endure hundreds of sit-ups, push-ups and chin-ups.

"He was more or less to me like the epitome of infantry," said Bruce Williams, who also served in the Army with McVeigh and testified during the sentencing at the bombing trial.

"In Fort Benning you have a statue and it's called 'Iron Mike.' And I kind of thought of him as an Iron Mike-type of fellow, you know, the extremist, follow-me kind of guy," Williams said.

Dilly quickly learned McVeigh liked survivalism and guns. McVeigh kept food, ammunition, guns and water in a self-storage unit in nearby Junction City, Kan., he said.

McVeigh had between 30 and 40 guns at the time, Dilly said, but that wasn't unusual at Fort Riley.

Though soldiers were strictly prohibited from bringing personal weapons on post, McVeigh, like other soldiers, would sometimes sneak a gun on base. Once he hid a Beretta in a duffel bag so he could show it off to someone, Dilly said.

"He did a lot of trading and wheeling and dealing with the guns," Dilly recalled.

Each month, McVeigh would buy survivalist magazines at the base exchange, and he read "Soldier of Fortune," a pro-military, pro-gun magazine popular among the soldiers, Dilly said.

McVeigh also kept a copy of the "Turner Diaries" handy after spending a week reading the novel while on a field exercise, Dilly said. The book sat on McVeigh's desk.

The 211-page paperback by William Pierce, under the pen name Andrew Macdonald, portrays the overthrow of the federal government by a racist, anti-Semitic group. The series of attacks includes the bombing of the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. The bomber detonates the weapon in a stolen delivery truck.

"He even tried to get me to read it at one time," Dilly said.

While other soldiers frequented the local bars, McVeigh declined.

"He didn't drink," Dilly said.

But he would help finance soldiers who'd run out of money for a night on the town. "He was the guy to go to. He had regular customers," Dilly said.

Charging interest, he'd often lend cash to others, and he'd serve as the taxi service for drunken soldiers, charging them for a ride back to the base.

Around women, McVeigh acted nervous and he stuttered, his former roommate said.

He was "real shy, kind of like a junior-high kid," Dilly said. He could remember McVeigh hanging around with only a couple of girls briefly.

As roommates, the two talked about their families back home, and McVeigh frequently mentioned his father and younger sister, Jennifer.

"What I found strange was I could never remember him saying a word about his mother - ever," Dilly said. Dilly said he assumed at first that she must have been dead.

Then, about a month before McVeigh was scheduled to report for his Special Forces tryout, his unit was called to action in Operation Desert Storm, Dilly said.

McVeigh was ready for the Gulf War, said Burr, his attorney.

Expecting to face a battle-hardened Iraqi army, McVeigh had prepared for the worst. Casualties could be high, the soldiers were warned. But when they arrived in the desert, they found otherwise.

They were facing a decimated and starving group of people who used to be soldiers, Burr said. They saw extraordinary devastation from the air raids - charred bodies, parts of bodies.

"That whole process for him was extraordinarily disillusioning. He felt he was misled by the U.S. government," Burr said. "It felt like he was participating in a genocide."

Called home from Saudi Arabia for a special forces tryout, McVeigh wasn't in the physical condition he once was. And just days into the tryout, he quit.

"All he told me was he hurt his leg. I didn't press it," Dilly said. McVeigh eventually left the Army voluntarily in late 1991 during the downsizing after the Gulf War.

Like all Gulf War veterans who participated in the Special Forces tryout, McVeigh could have had another chance at making it in the elite Green Berets, Burr said.

But "he didn't have the heart to, because he didn't believe in the United States anymore," he said.

Post-Army life

After he left the Army, McVeigh returned to what author Michel called the "same dead-end job." He worked as a scheduler and security guard, this time with Burns Security.

McVeigh became progressively disillusioned and embraced his anti-government theme, Michel said.

He made his views known in letters to his hometown newspaper, the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal.

"Is civil war imminent?" McVeigh wrote in a February 1992 letter to the paper. "Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that, but it might.

"What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials?" he added. "AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE."

He left home in early 1993, on what Michel has described as McVeigh's "road journey."

Andrea Peters, who became friends with McVeigh while working at Burns Security, thought McVeigh was leaving for a toll-taking job in Kansas. But Michel said McVeigh was looking for something other than a job.

"He was looking for a state where there wouldn't be a lot of taxes," where there wasn't much government regulation, he said. "He just couldn't find his niche, and he became more and more indifferent to life in that two-year period. It developed over time."

During his cross-country journey, McVeigh visited gun shows, and often stayed weeks or even months at a time at the Nichols farm in Decker, Mich., and at Michael Fortier's home in Kingman, Ariz. Fortier and McVeigh had met in the Army, and served in the same unit as Nichols.

Robert Papovich of Cass City, Mich., remembers seeing McVeigh several times at the nearby Nichols farm "just hanging around." Government agents later searched the farm after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Once, McVeigh was helping side a building on the property.

"He was friendly, articulate, had a good sense of humor - a totally different Tim than Timothy McVeigh the Oklahoma City bomber," said Papovich, who has been corresponding with McVeigh since shortly after his arrest and has planned to travel to Terre Haute for Monday's execution.

Former defense attorney Stephen Jones believes it was around that time - on the Nichols farm - that McVeigh's attitude began to become extreme. And he credits James Nichols, the brother of McVeigh's Army buddy, Terry, for influencing McVeigh. James Nichols could not be reached for comment.

McVeigh's anti-government views were clearly evident to Michelle Rauch, who remembers seeing him in the spring of 1993 during the federal government's standoff at the Branch Davidian Compound near Waco, Texas.

Rauch, a college senior at the time, had traveled to Waco with a friend during their spring break. Rauch figured she would write a story on the standoff for her college newspaper.

As she approached the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agency media checkpoint, she noticed large signs that caught her attention: "David Koresh, The Great National Diversion," and "Mark of the Beast."

She interviewed a few people, including a man passing out Seventh-day Adventist Church literature and a woman selling T-shirts.

Then she came across McVeigh.

"Tim McVeigh was sitting there on the hood of his car with bumper stickers," said Rauch, now a reporter with a Lexington, Ky., television station.

Dressed in a camouflage baseball cap, a red plaid shirt and jeans, McVeigh displayed four bumper stickers on the hood of his car and a cardboard sign in the window advertising the stickers for sale.

During a 15- to 20-minute discussion, during which she was photographed interviewing McVeigh, Rauch recalls being fascinated with the things he had to say.

"I didn't agree with it," she said. But she found his anti-government philosophy interesting, nonetheless. McVeigh was "so articulate and so smart," she said.

Rauch said she was struck by how unhappy he seemed to be with living in the United States.

McVeigh returned to the Nichols farm in Michigan, where he watched the end of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, play out on television.

The standoff, which began with a weapons raid Feb. 28, 1993, at the Branch Davidian compound, ended April 19, 1993, when the compound burned, killing cult leader David Koresh and at least 78 of his followers. While six of the nine surviving cult members claimed the FBI started the blaze, FBI officials said Branch Davidians set fire to the building.

The government's actions and its response angered McVeigh. "What he saw after Waco was the government not taking responsibility for what happened," Burr said.

That failure to be held accountable, in the eyes of McVeigh, made the government even more dangerous. "It meant to him that the government might do that over and over again, and there had to be some fight-back against that," Burr said.

The memory of Waco would not fade, even after the bombing.

"Every time we talked about Waco, there was a point at which in the conversation tears came into his eyes and he quit talking," Burr said. It was as if he had lost a family member in the fire.

After the siege ended, McVeigh returned to Arizona where he and Fortier discussed their concern that the United Nations was actively trying to form a one-world government. He suspected the U.N. might disarm the American public, Fortier said. 

"We were calling this 'the New World Order.' We spoke quite a bit about that," Fortier testified.

McVeigh didn't stay long in Kingman, but returned over the next year a number of times, sometimes remaining for only a few days, other times for as long as a month.

While McVeigh wandered the country, he kept a post office box in Kingman, his father said.

To reach his son by phone, Bill McVeigh often went through Fortier. "He was the only one that knew where Tim was," Bill McVeigh said.

Sometimes only a day would pass before McVeigh would return his father's calls, other times a week or more would pass.

Twice, McVeigh met his father in Las Vegas, for a few hours together.

By mid-1994, McVeigh had become paranoid, keeping weapons behind his doors in a cement-block house he rented near Kingman, Fortier said during the bombing trial. He was collecting wood from a hardware store in Kingman for the wood-burning stove in his home. He also stacked wood in his backyard, building a barrier to block bullets in case of any Waco-style raid on his home.

About that time, McVeigh also told Fortier he thought the U.S. government had declared war on the American public and was actively taking citizens' rights away.

Bill McVeigh soon realized the extent of his son's anger toward the government. Following the death of his paternal grandfather in late 1994, Tim McVeigh returned home and helped take care of his grandfather's estate. He cleaned out Ed McVeigh's home, organizing a garage sale and taking other items to an auction house.

When the father and son watched television together, Bill McVeigh grasped the change in Tim.

At the mention of the word "Waco," "Reno," or "Clinton," McVeigh would scream, his father said. "I knew he was angry with the government."

While at home, McVeigh traveled to two gun shows in Grand Rapids, Mich. Before Christmas, McVeigh left town after attending a show in Buffalo, N.Y., his father said. It was the last time he'd see his son until after the bombing.

While McVeigh was still at home, former co-worker Peters received a letter from him indicating he wanted to get together.

In November 1994, the two met for at least three hours at a restaurant, where McVeigh "told me he was just living out of his car, working on a farm by day. He wanted to travel, see the sights," Peters said in trial testimony.

McVeigh didn't have a home at the time and mentioned he had been in Michigan and Kansas, Peters said. He planned to see the country and later settle down and find a job, she said.

After the meeting ended, the two parted ways, but that was not the end of their communication.

In a letter dated Dec. 13, 1994, from a Kingman address, McVeigh wrote: "If you ever need anything, let me know. (1) someone killed, blown up, etc. (2) a shoulder. (3) refuge. (4) fertilization from good stock when that clock starts ticking. I'll always listen. Don't hesitate to drop me a line. People may change superficially but not underneath. Remember that. Take care and merry Christmas."

The bombing

On April 19, 1995, McVeigh lashed out at the federal government, bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

"My decision to take human life at the Murrah Building - I did not do it for personal gain. I ease my mind in that I did it for the larger good," McVeigh is quoted as saying in "American Terrorist."

The 9:02 a.m. blast killed 168 people, including 19 children, making it the worst act of domestic terrorism in the United States.

His father remembers FBI agents showing up in Pendleton, N.Y., soon afterward.

"They came in here and asked me if he could have done it. While they were still here, they told me he had been arrested," McVeigh's father recalled.

"I don't understand why he did it. I don't know why anybody would do something like that," Bill McVeigh said of his son's actions.

The bomber's childhood neighbor McDermott was at home in Pendleton, N.Y., when the phone rang within days of the bombing.

"A friend of mine called and said to the effect, 'It can't be Tim, can it?'" She turned on the television. "It was Tim."

When Belzer heard that McVeigh had been arrested for the bombing, "It was just hard to believe."

"Knowing him, talking to him, you say, no, he wouldn't be involved in something like that," said the priest from McVeigh's childhood church. He's still not convinced McVeigh could have masterminded the bombing.

But for months, McVeigh and Terry Nichols had been planning to bomb the federal building, Fortier testified in court.

"He told me they picked that building because that was where the orders for the attack on Waco came from. He also told me that he was wanting to blow up a building to cause a general uprising in America, hopefully that would knock some people off the fence urge them into taking action against the federal government," Fortier said.

As early as the fall of 1994, McVeigh told him "that he figured out how to make a truck into a bomb."

He explained to Fortier how he would arrange the 55-gallon drums of explosives in the back of a Ryder truck, about the ratio of fuel to ammonium nitrate and said he'd use explosives stolen from a Kansas quarry.

McVeigh described how he'd obtained the ammonium nitrate and necessary fuel for the bomb, Fortier said.

"He told me he wanted to bomb the building on the anniversary of Waco," Fortier testified.

McVeigh said the people in the building were like "Storm Troopers in the movie Star Wars. They may be individually innocent, but because they are part of the Evil Empire, they were guilty by association," Fortier said.

McVeigh viewed the bombing of the Murrah building as necessary, said Michel, the author.

"He said it was a last resort," Michel said. "He said he views killing as a last resort. This is what makes him a three-dimensional person and so scary. He's thinking things through."

Michel believes McVeigh left a trail to be caught.

He didn't have a license plate on his getaway car, which led to his arrest in the hours following the bombing.

"And I know some people will say, 'Well he forgot to put it on.' But he says he left it off intentionally," Michel said.

In his car sat a white envelope packed with his anti-government views. "He wanted to get his message out. He knew he was going to be caught. That's why he had that," Michel said.

He wore a T-shirt that day depicting a tree dripping blood. "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants," the T-shirt read, quoting Thomas Jefferson.

At McVeigh's trial, prosecutors said the defendant bombed the building in retaliation for the federal government's siege at Waco. Michel said the act was also a culmination of other things.

"It was his perception that the federal government was growing more and more aggressive against citizens," he said.

McVeigh, a "news junkie" who reads newspapers and follows television closely, "said that he was aware of hundreds of events with no-knock searches by federal agents," Michel said.

McVeigh opposed the assault weapon ban, which was percolating in Congress in the spring of 1994 and signed into law in September 1994.

"He felt his heritage as a gun owner was being threatened," Michel said.

McVeigh would explain his involvement in the bombing to attorney Stephen Jones.

Jones, who emphasizes the attorney-client privilege in the case has been severed some time ago, believes that much of McVeigh's recollection was "clearly memorized" and that he did not act alone, as he has claimed.

While the major details remained consistent, many of the minor details varied, the attorney contends.

"He has a deep psychological need to take the credit, to be seen as the mastermind," said Jones, who has written his own book, "Others Unknown: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing Conspiracy." A revised version of the book was released last month.

"He has a lot of intelligence. He's articulate," and also has a sense of humor. But "he is capable of being manipulative, cunning, angry, threatening," McVeigh's former attorney said.

Prison life

McVeigh has the ability to adjust and make the most out of whatever the situation at any given moment, which is exactly what he's accomplished in prison, Michel said.

A survivalist before the bombing, he once joked with Michel while being interviewed at the Supermax Prison in Florence, Colo., that "I always wanted to live in a bunker and here I am - concrete and steel reinforced bunker."

For the last six years - including nearly two years in Terre Haute, McVeigh has used his time behind bars reading articles, watching television and corresponding with friends, Michel said.

McVeigh has always liked movies, McDermott recalled, and had served as her own personal movie critic for years. Even behind bars, he has done the same, recommending the movie "Contact" a few years back.

Recently, he was preoccupied with the issue of his autopsy, Michel said.

It's an issue he made public in a letter dated Aug. 26, 2000, to the Tribune-Star. He complained he and other condemned inmates "oppose autopsies for reasons ranging from the principle of the matter [unnecessary mutilation], to religious, practical, and/or ethical concerns." McVeigh has succeeded and will not be autopsied.

Last month, formally calling him "Inmate McVeigh," U.S. Penitentiary Warden Harley Lappin described the infamous death-row resident as a "very manageable individual" who "continues to be so."

While in prison, despite claiming to be an agnostic - he won't rule out the possibility that there is a God - he has spoken with a chaplain, Michel said.

The Rev. Ron Ashmore, who met McVeigh while working at the penitentiary, describes McVeigh as a quiet person.

"People judge him as cold and indifferent and uncaring. That is not Tim. He has been schooled as a solider and not to allow his emotions to be involved in what happens," said Ashmore, priest at St. Margaret Mary's parish in Terre Haute.

"No one knows what is in Tim's heart," Ashmore said.

A death wish

In December, against the advice of his attorneys, McVeigh asked a judge to stop his appeals and to set a date for his execution.

The move was all part of what McVeigh calls a "deluxe suicide-by-cop package," Michel said.

"He's saying you're killing me but you're actually fulfilling my death wish. You're saying the physician-assisted suicide that Jack Kevorkian does and that other states are against, you're legally doing to me," Michel said.

McVeigh's decision has been difficult for his father, who came to Terre Haute on April 10 to say his good-bye to his son, who at that time was scheduled to die May 16.

Bill McVeigh asked his son if he'd apologize.

Tim's response: "If I apologize, dad, I'd be making a lot of people happier. If I apologized, it would be a lie."

A pane of glass separated them as they said a final farewell.

After the FBI's belated disclosure of Oklahoma City bombing documents, Attorney General John Ashcroft set a new execution date. McVeigh briefly fought Monday's scheduled execution, allowing his attorneys to argue for a stay before U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch.

But when Matsch denied the stay and the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals backed Matsch's decision, McVeigh told his attorneys he was through with appeals. McVeigh has declined interview requests from the Tribune-Star.

In asking McVeigh about the afterlife, Michel posed the question: What if there is a heaven and a hell?

"And he said, 'Well, one, I'll have lots of company in hell: jet fighter pilots who have bombed people in other countries, generals, leaders over the centuries who have declared war on other countries,'" Michel said.

"And two, he says that once he dies and if it's nothing more than just death and an end, once he passes over to the other side, he will adapt, improvise and overcome."

For McVeigh, death is all part of the adventure, Michel said.

Michel believes that McVeigh, from the gurney in the death chamber, may utter as his last words those from William Ernest Henley's 19th-century poem "Invictus:"

"I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul."






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