Oklahoma State University alumnus Dr. John Hendrix always had an eye for history.
During his time at OSU he served as the Speakers Board chairman, brought James Earl Jones, Jane Goodall and Al Franken to campus and was always looking to witness monumental events.
So when he was a sophomore during the week of Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, Hendrix knew where he needed to go.
“So (the bombing) happened on Wednesday, but then on Friday was the day that they had announced that they had caught one of the bombers (Timothy McVeigh),” Hendrix said. “I remember I was at Eskimo Joes with a couple of friends, it was kind of a somber day, and me and my friend Piyush Patel were driving back and we had heard on the radio that they had caught someone in Perry.
“Piyush had to go to work, but my other friend who I was with at Eskimo Joes had left a message on my voicemail and I called him back and he said ‘hey, they caught one of the f---ers in Perry, are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ And I was like ‘you need to pick me up’ and he drove over and we drove over to Perry from our dorm.”
As Hendrix drove to Perry, he remembers dozens of Oklahoma Highway Patrol cars zooming past him, which isn’t something he was used to. When he got there he noted that the scene was filled with police tape, reporters and large crowds looking to see McVeigh.
“(The reporters) were right there by us and we were all just chatting, they were telling us what they had heard about the bombing and what they had known,” Hendrix said. “There were step ladders all over the courthouse lawn because the photographers had told us they bought every step ladder they could find and stopping trucks with stepladders to get a better vantage point.”
Hendrix stayed near the courthouse for about four hours to try and find out as much as he could. At one point, he even got Simple Simons pizza with a British Times reporter to try and pass the time.
“We were thinking ‘we may have to leave here soon,’ but it was about that time that they pulled out the van that was gonna carry him,” Hendrix said. “And I remember my friend and I thought someone in the crowd, you could just tell the vibe of the crowd was very upset and there was a negative energy there, and we thought someone was gonna take a shot at him.
“And when he stepped out the crowd just started screaming and booing. The one thing I could hear the crowd saying was ‘baby killer.’ I’ve always tried to go back and find videos of that with the sound, but I could never find it.”
Soon after this, the crowd dispersed, reporters left and it was time for Hendrix and company to head back to Stillwater. The thing that struck him the most that day was just how young and ordinary looking McVeigh was.
“The first thing I thought was ‘God, he’s so young,’” Hendrix said. “To see this very plain, white gentleman with his military haircut, and he had an innocent look to him, you don’t look at him and think ‘he’s up to no good.’ And it was shocking to see him because he’s anybody on the street–– and he could do that kind of devastation.”
Hendrix finally returned to his dorm later that evening and noticed another voicemail on his answering machine. This one was from someone who knew he’d be on the scene of history.
“I made it back to my dorm room and there’s another message on my voicemail and it was from my mom, who said ‘you’re not in your dorm, I bet I know where you are right now… I just knew that’s what you would do,’” Hendrix said.