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Timothy McVeigh had ice cream and gazed at the moon just before execution in Terre Haute

Timothy McVeigh had ice cream and gazed at the moon just before execution in Terre Haute


Science and technology are helping Oklahoma City to sustain the DNA and spirit of a tree symbolizing hope 24 years after the terrorism on U.S. soil. AP Domestic

“McVeigh meets fate,” the front page of the Indianapolis Star read on June 11, 2001.

Timothy McVeigh, convicted in the Oklahoma City Bombing, was executed by lethal injection at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute 20 years ago on this day.

He “wrote letters, ate (mint chocolate chip) ice cream and was in ‘good spirits’ before the scheduled execution,” the newspaper reported.

The execution itself, the first federal death penalty in the U.S. since 1963, also spurred strong emotions and debates around the country. Another Indianapolis Star front page story called the legal case a “collision of good and evil,” “right and wrong” and “all or nothing” for many people.

Terre Haute was consumed by the controversy. Nearly 100 protesters marched to the prison to oppose the execution. East of the penitentiary, where the execution took place, a field became known as “Camp McVeigh” for the media tents and satellite trucks to cover the execution.

Some spent time praying for the Oklahoma City bombing victims and their families — and McVeigh himself. One priest said he believed the convicted bomber would go to heaven, saying he didn’t deserve to be demonized. Another said he was “on his way to hell” because of his unrepentance. 

More than 300 bombing survivors and relatives of victims watched a closed-circuit telecast of the execution at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.

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“I need to see it to get the reality,” said Rudy Guzman, who lost his older brother in the bombing.

The execution was scheduled for 7 a.m., with McVeigh dressed in a shirt, khaki pants and slip-on shoes. He was strapped to a gurney before being taken to the death chamber, where he received two IV injections of a lethal cocktail of chemicals. McVeigh was permitted to make a “reasonably brief” statement, but he declined. 

Instead, McVeigh left a final message through a hand-copied poem, with his signature at the bottom. “Invictus” by William Ernst Henley ends with the following lines:

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

IndyStar’s Diana Penner, one of 10 media members who watched the execution, wrote in an eyewitness account for the newspaper the next day: “Ultimately, however, McVeigh was stripped of the most fundamental control: The judicial system and society decided he would die and there was nothing he could do about it.”

A lawyer for McVeigh, Robert Nigh, spoke of one of his client’s final moments, looking up into the nighttime sky for the first — and last time — in years.

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“He was able to look up in the sky… and see the moon directly,” Nigh said. “And that was valuable to him.”

McVeigh, a former U.S. Army soldier, was convicted of 11 counts of murder, conspiracy and using a weapon of mass destruction after detonating a fertilizer bomb in front of a downtown Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. The attack killed 168 people, including 19 children, making it the most deadly domestic assault in U.S. history.

He was tried and found guilty by a jury in Denver in June 1997.


Highlights of this day in history: Alabama Gov. George Wallace makes a symbolic stand against racial integration; A Buddhist monk immolates himself in South Vietnam; Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh executed; Actor John Wayne dies. (June 11) AP Domestic

USA TODAY contributed to this report.

Contact IndyStar reporter Rashika Jaipuriar at and follow her on Twitter @rashikajpr.

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Published at Fri, 11 Jun 2021 22:50:12 +0000