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The execution

From decorated veteran to mass murderer

Oklahoma City bomber a study in contradictions

The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killed 168 people.  

(CNN) -- Six years, one month and 23 days after a truck bomb shattered the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, federal prison authorities placed a needle in Timothy McVeigh's right leg and pumped a deadly stream of drugs into his veins.

McVeigh, 33, did not make a verbal statement before he was executed June 11 in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. But in a handwritten statement, he quoted a section of the poem "Invictus," which reads in part "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul."

The convicted bomber was executed for the April 19, 1995, attack that killed 168 people -- 19 of them children -- and injured more than 500. It was the largest terrorist act ever committed on U.S. soil.

Early reports suggested that a Middle Eastern terrorist may have been responsible for the carnage. But within days, federal authorities linked the attack to an all-American-looking young man who appeared more like the boy next door than the epitome of evil.

McVeigh, a decorated Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War, had launched his own private war on the U.S. government.

In-depth reports:
The execution of Timothy McVeigh
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A recently published biography, "American Terrorist" by journalists Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, presents a chilling portrait of McVeigh, based on more than 75 hours of interviews with him and accounts from dozens of family members, friends and associates from every phase of his life. Many who knew McVeigh described him as an extraordinary contradiction.

"If you met Tim McVeigh and you didn't know his history and you began chatting with him ... you'd find him a very affable, knowledgeable young man," Herbeck said in an interview before the execution.

And yet the authors said that McVeigh not only confessed to them -- he took pride in being the man responsible for the bombing.

"There is a boylike way around him, and yet he has a clinician's view of the bombing," Michel said.

There is nothing clinical about the view of Roy Sells, whose wife died in the explosion. Sells, and many others who lost loved ones in the attack, said before the execution that McVeigh was getting off easy with death by lethal injection.

"They should put him in a building that they're going to implode and chain him to it somewhere and then let me have the detonator -- let me do the job at my own time," Sells said. "That's the way he took their lives ... the crushing of little children, grandpas, husbands and wives and everything else. He is getting away really easy compared to what those 168 people had to go through."

The boy next door

Timothy McVeigh with his grandfather Ed McVeigh at high school graduation in 1986.  

The man convicted of the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history spent his early years in surroundings straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. In many ways, McVeigh had a typical middle-class American upbringing in the rural New York towns of Pendleton and Lockport, outside of Buffalo. The main pastimes were church bingo games, bowling and football.

His parents, Bill and Mickey McVeigh, married in 1965. Bill was a factory worker at a radiator plant. Their first daughter, Patty, was born soon after the wedding, and Tim came along in April 1968. In 1974, the couple's last child, Jennifer, was born.

The marriage was rocky, and after several separations, the family split up for good when Tim was an adolescent. Tim stayed with his father, and the two girls headed south to Florida with their mother.

Another crack on the idyllic facade of McVeigh's childhood was bullying. Some ridiculed the tall and gawky teen with the nickname of "Noodle McVeigh," according to "American Terrorist." The book describes an incident when some older high school students dangled McVeigh by his feet, trying to stick his head into a flushing toilet.

McVeigh won a partial college scholarship, and after graduating from high school in 1986, he decided to attend a two-year business college near his father's home. But he soon dropped out and began a series of odd jobs -- first at a Burger King and later as an armed security guard.

His love for guns, going back to his boyhood when he enjoyed target practice with his grandfather, Ed McVeigh, became a bigger part of his life. One day he sent off for a book advertised in the back of a gun magazine called "The Turner Diaries."

The novel was written by former American Nazi Party official William Pierce under the pen name Andrew MacDonald. It tells the story of a gun enthusiast who reacts to the government's tightening of restrictions on private firearms by bombing a federal building. McVeigh often referred to the book and introduced it to other people he met.

'The best soldier'

While in the Army, McVeigh distinguished himself as the best marksman in his platoon.  

McVeigh joined the Army in 1988 and was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training. He took to Army life immediately.

"He was the best solider I met when I was in the Army -- by far," said David Dilly, who served in the Army with McVeigh. "Everything we did he excelled at. He was the best always."

McVeigh joined the 1st Infantry Division and soon became a sergeant and a gunner on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. He was called up for combat in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, where he distinguished himself as the best shot in his platoon.

McVeigh was awarded the Bronze Star among other medals and invited to try out for the Army's Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets.

But McVeigh was not prepared for the rigorous evaluation program of the Special Forces and gave up his bid to join the elite group on the third day. Shortly afterward, he resigned from the Army.

Growing outrage

McVeigh told biographers he wanted to get caught to give a platform to his anti-government message.  

McVeigh began a life of wandering from state to state, buying and selling weapons on the gun-show circuit and preaching a message of the evils of government. He spent time with old Army buddies -- Terry Nichols in rural Michigan and Michael Fortier, who lived near Kingman, Arizona. All three shared a bond of the love of guns and anger at a government they believed was trying to take away their rights and weapons.

In the summer of 1992, the FBI went after white separatist Randy Weaver on charges of selling illegal sawed-off shotguns. During a standoff at Weaver's cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, his wife and son were killed. The incident would become a rallying point for McVeigh and others immersed in the militia movement.

The next year, federal agents zeroed in on the compound of a religious group known as the Branch Davidians, ordering leader David Koresh to surrender to charges of harboring illegal weapons. McVeigh traveled to Waco, Texas, to protest the government's prolonged siege on the compound. After a few days, he left the scene. But McVeigh watched on television April 19, 1993, as the standoff culminated in a firestorm. Dozens of Branch Davidians were killed, including children.

'Collateral damage'

After years of growing outrage, McVeigh told his biographers that he began meticulously planning the bombing of a federal facility, deciding on the Murrah Building because its location would provide excellent camera angles for media coverage of the event. He alone was responsible for the bombing, McVeigh asserted to the authors, adding that he wanted to get caught to give a platform for his anti-government message. For McVeigh, the act was not a crime but a soldier's mission.

He lamented the fact that he parked the truck bomb near the day-care center at the building, because the deaths of 19 children was a "PR nightmare" that overshadowed his anti-government message, Michel said.

McVeigh described the deaths as "collateral damage," according to the book.

But Inspector Jerry Flowers of the Oklahoma City police department gives a less technical description of the scene immediately following the blast.

"When I got down here, my partner and I, we worked our way into the building and (we saw) people everywhere profusely bleeding from the head, body parts laying on the ground around the north side of the building here. People (were) screaming and crying for help that were hurt beyond (hope). ... You couldn't do much for them except console them."

Many people are still trying to put together their lives six years after the blast. Jim and Claudia Denny relied on faith to help them face the terrifying injuries of their children, Brandon, now 8, and Rebecca, 9, who were among just six out of the 25 children in the day-care center to survive the bomb.

Brandon lost part of his brain and underwent three life-threatening brain surgeries. Rebecca suffered severe facial injuries and underwent four surgeries. Brandon is regaining almost full use of both arms and is reading well, while Rebecca bears little evidence of the facial cuts.

The survivors and families of victims reacted in different ways as McVeigh's execution neared.

"We've never had the anger or hatred other people have," Jim Denny said. "It doesn't make us any better than them. We're all trying to get through this in our own way."

Jannie Coverdale, who lost two grandchildren, struggles with the pain wrought by the bombing.

And so does Bill McVeigh, who paid his last visit to his son on death row in April. He told CNN then that his son's execution would be hard on the family and that he will never understand why his son committed such a horrible crime.

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