Exhibit Spotlight: To Serve and Protect

Exhibits of the National Law Enforcement Museum: To Serve and Protect

In past issues of the National Law Enforcement Museum Insider, we shared brief overviews of the Museum’s permanent exhibits. Now, we examine some stories and artifacts each exhibit will highlight.

After Museum visitors are welcomed and introduced in the Main Theater, they will be free to explore several different exhibits in any order they choose.  Some visitors may travel right outside the theater to an area called To Serve and Protect. The stories told here will allow visitors to explore and gain a better understanding of how law enforcement in America works, and how officers’ actions—large and small—affect individuals, communities, and the nation. To Serve and Protect also provides a forum where visitors’ opinions, experiences, and ideas about law enforcement can be shared.

One story that To Serve and Protect will feature is the tragic 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma—the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.  At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, a rental truck exploded, taking off the entire north side of the Federal Building. The blast killed 168 people, including 19 children. Overall, 851 persons were injured or killed as a direct result of the bombing or during building evacuation.

A granite fragment of the Murrah Federal Building, bombed on April 19, 1995. 2007.112.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
The Murrah Building at night looking at the bombed north side of the building, 1995. 2007.109.1.1. Collection of the National Law Enforcement Museum, Washington, DC.
Click on photo to view larger image.

To Serve and Protect will showcase a piece of granite from the Federal Building, providing visitors with a tangible way to engage with the diverse experiences of that fateful day.

Approximately 90 minutes after the explosion in Oklahoma City, about 35 miles from the Kansas border, Timothy McVeigh was stopped on I-35N by Oklahoma State Trooper Charles Hanger for driving a vehicle without license plates. As a result of the traffic stop, Trooper Hanger found that McVeigh was carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.  This discovery led to McVeigh's arrest, after which he was booked and held in the Noble County (OK) Jail.

Using forensic evidence, authorities linked McVeigh (while he was still in prison) and an accomplice, Terry Nichols, to the Oklahoma City bombing.  Within days, both men were charged. McVeigh had publicly vocalized his great mistrust and disapproval of the government in the past, particularly concerning the way the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) handled the 1993 incident at Waco, Texas, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and U.S. Marshals Service’s involvement at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. In 1997, McVeigh was convicted on federal murder charges and given the death sentence. In letters he wrote after his conviction, McVeigh described the siege at Waco as the defining event in his decision to retaliate against the government with the bombing, which occurred two years to the day after the incident at Waco. He was executed on June 11, 2001. Nichols was convicted on federal and state bombing charges and is currently serving multiple life sentences.  Their friend, Michael Fortier, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for keeping information about the attack from authorities.

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, rescue workers from the Oklahoma City fire and police departments and the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office were joined by agents from the FBI, ATF, and other federal agencies to formulate an immediate response to the chaos that existed inside and around the Federal Building. Police officers, firefighters, and rescue workers from surrounding cities and states began arriving to help in the rescue effort.  Coordination among the FBI, ATF, city fire and police departments, and the county Sheriff's Office was essential to ensure an efficient and effective relief effort. 

The FBI led the official investigation, called OKBOMB. The investigation team had 900 federal, state, and local law enforcement agents, including 300 FBI agents, 200 officers from the Oklahoma City Police Department, 125 members of the Oklahoma National Guard, and 55 officers from the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety. According to the FBI, even though the bombing case was quickly solved, “the investigation turned out to be one of the most exhaustive in FBI history. No stone was left unturned to make sure every clue was found and all the culprits identified. By the time it was over, the Bureau had conducted more than 28,000 interviews, followed some 43,000 investigative leads, amassed three-and-a-half tons of evidence, and reviewed nearly a billion pieces of information."

Considering all the heartbreaking events that happened that day in Oklahoma City, the unsightly chunk of granite to be exhibited in the Museum could certainly be seen as representing something tragic. On the other hand, it could serve as a reminder of the inspiring and courageous response to the devastation.  In the midst of the nation’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism, law enforcement professionals doing their jobs well and working together resulted in bringing guilty parties to justice. One state trooper’s routine, seemingly unimportant traffic stop had repercussions that echoed through the entire nation.  (Note: then-Trooper Hanger [now Sheriff of Noble County (OK)] was named Officer of the Month for October 2001 by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund for his efforts in capturing Timothy McVeigh.)

We hope experiencing To Serve and Protect will encourage visitors to ponder and share opinions, experiences, and ideas they might have about law enforcement, whether related to the Oklahoma City bombing, or otherwise.


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