Stillwater News Press

Local News

April 17, 2010

Oklahomans reflect on bombing

STILLWATER, Okla. — Perry, population 5,230, was turned upside down when word spread that the suspect in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing was being held in the Noble County Jail. But as much as reporters and curious bystanders wanted to glimpse Timothy McVeigh as he was led out of the jail, they wanted to meet the highway patrol trooper who arrested him.

“There was some enterprising young man there who knew me and where I lived, so he had drawn out maps to my house and was selling it to the media at $20 a pop,” Hanger recalled.

He arrested McVeigh April 19, only hours after a fertilizer bomb packed inside a rental truck exploded outside the Murrah building in downtown Oklahoma City.

Hanger started his day at the Oklahoma Highway Patrol regional headquarters, in Pawnee at the time. While at headquarters, he heard chatter on the police scanner about police units being sent to Oklahoma City. He was dispatched, too, but while on his way he was told to disregard his orders and stay in the area.

While he was en route to do a followup investigation of a wreck the previous day, Hanger passed a yellow Mercury without a license plate.

He pulled the driver over on northbound Interstate 35 in Noble County.

Hanger made everyone he stopped get out of the car to speak with him, he said, and this man was no exception.

The man explained he didn’t have a license plate because he just bought the car. The driver didn’t have a bill of sale or proof of insurance, but he did have a driver’s license. His name was Timothy James McVeigh, a 26-year-old white male from Michigan.

But when McVeigh reached into his back pocket for his driver’s license, Hanger noticed a bulge under his jacket. McVeigh admitted he had a weapon when Hanger told him to slowly unzip his jacket. Hanger drew his weapon. He ordered McVeigh to turn around and put his hands up.

“He made a statement at that time that I think he was trying to intimidate me with, and he said ‘my weapon is loaded,’ and I nudged him with the barrel of my pistol right at the back of his head and I said, ‘well, so is mine.’”

Hanger called in the serial numbers on McVeigh’s gun and car. Neither had been reported  stolen.

McVeigh consented to a search of his car, and inside the trooper found a yellow legal-size envelope. McVeigh requested Hanger leave the envelope in the car.

The highway patrol trooper later discovered the envelope contained excerpts from The Turner Diaries, a book notorious for depicting a violent overthrow of the federal government. Even more chilling, Hanger found a business card in the back seat of his patrol car where McVeigh had sat while being transported to jail and on the back of the card from an army surplus store in Wisconsin was a message. More TNT would be needed May 1.

Hanger arrested McVeigh on preliminary complaints of unlawfully carrying a weapon on his person, no license plate and no insurance.

Back then, state law prohibited residents from carrying concealed weapons.

Hanger went home to Perry later that Wednesday. He didn’t think again about the incident until he got a call at home Friday and was summoned to OHP troop headquarters.

When he returned to Perry, Hanger found his town in chaos. Noble County commissioners had abandoned their offices in the courthouse, and about 3,000 onlookers crowded the courthouse lawn. A TV media crew set up equipment in the bed of the tooper’s truck without his permission.

Reporters were already camped out at his house.

“The phone would not quit ringing,” Hanger recalled. “I couldn’t even call out.”

The frenzy died down about a week later, after the highway patrol organized a news conference.

Hanger spent the next two years traveling to Denver for meetings with federal prosecutors and the FBI.

Despite the doubts of some, he’s convinced Timothy McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols acted alone.

“(Prosecutors) had volumes of evidence. They had more evidence than they knew what to use,” Hanger said.

Nichols was found to have stolen guns in Arkansas, Hanger said.

“If they had other people actually supporting them or funding this, I don’t think they would have had to went to those extremes to steal things to buy the components to make the bomb,” he said.

He said he’s learned a lot through being in the spotlight, including public speaking skills. Hanger travels the country giving speeches to law enforcement agents.

For arresting the American terrorist without incident, Hanger received the Trooper of the Year Award in 1995, the J. Stannard Baker Award for highway safety and other honors. He is now sheriff of Noble County.

He takes little credit for making the arrest, attributing his actions not to his expertise and intuition, but to “divine intervention.”

Hanger wasn’t the only Perry resident whose life was changed by the arrest of Timothy McVeigh.

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