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The Oklahoma City Bombing, 25 Years Later


Twenty-five years ago this Sunday, Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City. Terry Nichols helped McVeigh make the truck bomb, which killed 168 people and wounded nearly 700. Wade Goodwyn covered the story for NPR then and has this remembrance.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: I had just finished breakfast and was folding up the newspaper when the phone rang. It was my editor in D.C. Are you watching this on TV? No, I said, my stomach starting to drop because that's always a bad question from your editor. Turn it on, he said.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Most people were already inside at work here when the blast ripped the nine-story federal office building apart.

GOODWYN: The circling helicopter camera shot which came into view showed a nine-story building so destroyed, I couldn't really understand what I was seeing at first. A gas leak, I pondered out loud. That's no gas leak, my editor said. Nope, it was the work of far-right, government-hating, decorated Iraq War veteran Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh's way of seeing the world deluded him into believing that most Americans hated their government just as much as he did. He thought blowing up a federal building would be the signal for armed Americans to rise up and overthrow their government.


MICHAEL REYES: I was sitting at my desk, and I had just gotten off the phone. And then the power went off.

GOODWYN: One of the most extraordinary survivors, Michael Reyes, spoke to me on the occasion of the bombing's first anniversary. Reyes worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and he described the federal building blowing up around him as he sat on his desk on the seventh floor.


REYES: So I don't know whether I dove under my desk or the floor just gave way, and I started to fall. And I thought, you know, I'm going to fall down seven floors, and that's going to be it.

GOODWYN: Here's Reyes 25 years later this week in Washington, D.C.

REYES: And so I was in a freefall from the seventh floor and ended up landing on the third floor in a - just a big pile of rubble. And the people that had been there on the third floor were surprised to see me.

GOODWYN: While Reyes survived in miraculous fashion, his father Antonio, who also worked for HUD on the eighth floor, fell to his death. He was 55. Twenty-five years later, Michael Reyes is now three months older than his father was when he was murdered by McVeigh and Nichols.


GOODWYN: Three weeks after April 19 at 9:02 a.m., the search for the bodies trapped in the building's rubble came to an end. A private ceremony was held for the workers and the first responders.


GOODWYN: When I tried to record the narrative for the story, describing the bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace," my throat closed up at that part, and I couldn't go on. I told the recording engineers to give me five and then try it again. To my frustration, I choked up a second time. Eventually, I got through it. But someone must have called my editor, and a few minutes later the phone rang. It's time to go home, he told me. No, no, I insisted. I need to stay. I think there's other conspirators. He was having none of it. You've done a good job, Goodwyn. Go home to Texas. And so I did. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wade Goodwyn
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.