Timothy McVeigh, better known as the Oklahoma City Bomber, was executed on June 11,2001 at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in Indiana. Known as America’s deadliest domestic terrorist, McVeigh and accomplice Terry Nichols drove a truck bomb beneath the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in April 1995 and lit a fuse before leaving the 4,800 lbs of explosives to detonate. He killed 168 people, including 19 children. Now, 20 years on from his execution, a reporter who covered the historical day McVeigh was given his lethal injection is recalling the atmosphere he and the other journalists present experienced.
- The authorities were expecting thousands of protestors. As many people are against the death penalty regardless of the crime, prison authorities had set up blockades and assigned extra security to deal with the many protestors they expected. Instead, only a few hundred people came to have their say and the demonstration remained peaceful.
- The media was out in full force. The most interest in Timothy McVeigh’s execution came from the media, and more than 1,400 reporters came to the scene to cover the 33-year-old’s death. The execution was set for 7 a.m. local time nad was to be the first use of capital punishment since 1963, which made it even more monumental. More than 260 relatives of the victims were allowed to watch a live-feed of his final breaths.
- Reporter Andrew Buncombe was chosen as one of the few members of the media to watch the execution. As he recalled in a piece for The Independent, Buncombe “foolishly” believed it was his “journalistic duty” to add his name to the list of media witnesses, of which only 10 would be selected. Indeed, he was granted admission and is now reflecting on his experience.
- Timothy McVeigh was executed via lethal injection. As Buncombe recalled, McVeigh had an IV placed into his right leg that contained “sodium thiopental to sedate him, pancuronium bromide to prevent him breathing, and potassium chloride to stop his heart.” Only two people were in the room at the time, prison warden Harley Lappin and US Marshal Frank Anderson.
- It took less than 14 minutes for McVeigh to die. According to Buncombe’s recollection, McVeigh could be seen to “swallow hard, his eyes moved slightly. His chest moved up and down.” By 7:14 a.m., he was dead. He went on to say the CNBC anchor Shephard Smith, who was also present for Fox News on the day, told him: “We were standing at a glass window about 18 inches from his feet. He was wearing sneakers, you could see that. There were sheets up to here, and folded over. His hands were down. He looked straight at the ceiling.”
- He died with his eyes open. Susan Carlson, a reporter from WLS Radio in Chicago, was just one of the members of the media who noted that McVeigh’s eyes were still open when he took his final breaths. “As he laid back in position and they started administering all the drugs, his breathing became a little more shallow,” she said. “At one point, he filled up his cheeks with air and then just kind of let it go. But I don’t believe that was his last breath. There was still some shallow breathing that followed,” she shared. Another witness, Larry Whicher, described McVeigh’s face as “a totally expressionless, blank stare.” He added: “He had a look of defiance, and that if he could, he’d do it all over again.”