Massive oil spill begins in Gulf of Mexico

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/massive-oil-spill-begins-in-gulf-of-mexico

On this day in 2012, an explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, kills 11 people and triggers the largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been in the final phases of drilling an exploratory well for BP, the British oil giant. By the time the well was capped three months later, an estimated 4.9 million barrels (or around 206 million gallons) of crude oil had poured into the Gulf.

The disaster began when a surge of natural gas from the well shot up a riser pipe to the rig’s platform, where it set off a series of explosions and a massive blaze. Of the 126 people on board the nearly 400-foot-long Deepwater Horizon, 11 workers perished and 17 others were seriously injured. The fire burned for more than a day before the Deepwater Horizon, constructed for $350 million in 2001, sank on April 22 in some 5,000 feet of water.

Before evacuating the Deepwater Horizon, crew members tried unsuccessfully to activate a safety device called a blowout preventer, which was designed to shut off the flow of oil from the well in an emergency. Over the next three months, a variety of techniques were tried in an effort to plug the hemorrhaging well, which was spewing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf each day. Finally, on July 15, BP announced the well had been temporarily capped, and on September 19, after cement was injected into the well to permanently seal it, the federal government declared the well dead. By that point, however, oil from the spill had reached coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, where it would inflict a heavy toll on the region’s economy, particularly the fishing and tourism industries, and wildlife. Scientists say the full extent of the environmental damage could take decades to assess.

In January 2011, a national investigative commission released a report concluding the Deepwater Horizon disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. In November 2012, BP agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges brought against it by the U.S. Justice Department, and pay $4.5 billion in fines. Additionally, the Justice Department charged two BP managers who supervised testing on the well with manslaughter, and another company executive with making false statements about the size of the spill. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines. 

Mario Andretti competes in first Indy car event

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mario-andretti-competes-in-first-indy-car-event

On this day in 1964, Mario Andretti competes in his inaugural Indy car race, in Trenton, New Jersey, finishing in 11th place. The following year, Andretti won the first of his four Indy car championships (also referred to as the U.S. National Championship) and was named Rookie of the Year at the prestigious Indianapolis 500, where he came in third. Andretti went on to become an icon in the world of motorsports. He is the only man to win the Formula One World Championship, the U.S. National Championship (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984), the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring (1967, 1970, 1972) and the Pikes Peak International Hill Club.

Andretti, who was born on February 28, 1940, in Montona, Italy, moved with his family to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in the mid-1950s. He and his twin brother Aldo bought a 1948 Hudson Hornet Sportsman stock car and began racing it. After competing in his first Indy car event in 1964, Mario Andretti soon went on to become a start in the auto racing world and was known for his versatility–he drove open-wheel cars and stock cars and competed on a variety of tracks. In 1967, he won NASCAR’s Daytona 500 and the following year joined the Formula One Grand Prix racing circuit. In 1969, he won the Indy 500, as well as his third USAC championship and the 12 Hours of Sebring. In 1978, he became the Formula One World Champion; he was only the second American to capture this crown.

Andretti continued racing during the 1980s and into the 1990s. His sons Michael and Jeff also became race car drivers, as did his nephew John Andretti. In 1991, all four men competed on the Indy car circuit, the first family in which four relatives accomplished this feat. Andretti’s grandson Marco also became a competitive driver.

Mario Andretti won the last of his 52 Indy Car victories in 1993. He officially retired from racing in 1994, having competed in 407 Indy Car events.

Branch Davidian compound burns

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/branch-davidian-compound-burns

At Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launches a tear-gas assault on the Branch Davidian compound, ending a tense 51-day standoff between the federal government and an armed religious cult. By the end of the day, the compound was burned to the ground, and some 80 Branch Davidians, including 22 children, had perished in the inferno.

On February 28, 1993, agents of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) launched a raid against the Branch Davidian compound as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Christian cult. As the agents attempted to penetrate the complex, gunfire erupted, beginning an extended gun battle that left four ATF agents dead and 15 wounded. Six Branch Davidians were fatally wounded, and several more were injured, including David Koresh, the cult’s founder and leader. After 45 minutes of shooting, the ATF agents withdrew, and a cease-fire was negotiated over the telephone. The operation, which involved more than 100 ATF agents, was one of the largest ever mounted by the bureau and resulted in the highest casualties of any ATF operation.

David Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston, Texas, in 1959. In 1981, he joined the Branch Davidians, a sect of the Seventh Day Adventist Church founded in 1934 by a Bulgarian immigrant named Victor Houteff. Koresh, who possessed an exhaustive knowledge of the Bible, rapidly rose in the hierarchy of the small religious community, eventually entering into a power struggle with the Davidians’ leader, George Roden.

For a short time, Koresh retreated with his followers to eastern Texas, but in late 1987 he returned to Mount Carmel with seven armed followers and raided the compound, severely wounding Roden. Koresh went on trial for attempted murder, but the charge was dropped after his case was declared a mistrial. By 1990, he was the leader of the Branch Davidians and legally changed his name to David Koresh, with David representing his status as head of the biblical House of David, and Koresh standing for the Hebrew name for Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel.

Koresh took several wives at Mount Carmel and fathered at least 12 children from these women, several of whom were as young as 12 or 13 when they became pregnant. There is also evidence that Koresh may have harshly disciplined some of the 100 or so Branch Davidians living inside the compound, particularly his children. A central aspect of Koresh’s religious teachings was his assertion that the apocalyptic events predicted in the Bible’s book of Revelation were imminent, making it necessary, he asserted, for the Davidians to stockpile weapons and explosives in preparation.

Following the unsuccessful ATF raid, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the situation. A standoff with the Branch Davidians stretched into seven weeks, and little progress was made in the telephone negotiations, as the Davidians had stockpiled years of food and other necessities before the raid.

On April 18, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved a tear-gas assault on the compound, and at approximately 6:00 a.m. on April 19 the Branch Davidians were informed of the imminent attack and asked to surrender, which they refused to do. A few minutes later, two FBI combat vehicles began inserting gas into the building and were joined by Bradley tanks, which fired tear-gas canisters through the compound’s windows. The Branch Davidians, many with gas masks on, refused to evacuate, and by 11:40 a.m. the last of some 100 tear-gas canisters was fired into the compound. Just after noon, a fire erupted at one or more locations on the compound, and minutes later nine Davidians fled the rapidly spreading blaze. Gunfire was reported but ceased as the compound was completely engulfed by the flames.

Koresh and at least 80 of his followers, including 22 children, died during the federal government’s second disastrous assault on Mount Carmel. The FBI and the Justice Department maintained there was conclusive evidence that the Branch Davidian members ignited the fire, citing an eyewitness account and various forensic data. Of the gunfire reported during the fire, the government argued that the Davidians were either killing each other as part of a suicide pact or were killing dissenters who attempted to escape the Koresh-ordered suicide by fire. Most of the surviving Branch Davidians contested this official position, as do some critics in the press and elsewhere, whose charges against the ATF and FBI’s handling of the Waco standoff ranged from incompetence to premeditated murder. In 1999, the FBI admitted they used tear-gas grenades in the assault, which have been known to cause fires because of their incendiary properties.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/warsaw-ghetto-uprising-begins

In Warsaw, Poland, Nazi forces attempting to clear out the city’s Jewish ghetto are met by gunfire from Jewish resistance fighters, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins.

Shortly after the German occupation of Poland began, the Nazis forced the city’s Jewish citizens into a “ghetto” surrounded by barbwire and armed SS guards. The Warsaw ghetto occupied an area of less than two square miles but soon held almost 500,000 Jews in deplorable conditions. Disease and starvation killed thousands every month, and beginning in July 1942, 6,000 Jews per day were transferred to the Treblinka concentration camp. Although the Nazis assured the remaining Jews that their relatives and friends were being sent to work camps, word soon reached the ghetto that deportation to the camp meant extermination. An underground resistance group was established in the ghetto–the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB)–and limited arms were acquired at great cost.

On January 18, 1943, when the Nazis entered the ghetto to prepare a group for transfer, a ZOB unit ambushed them. Fighting lasted for several days, and a number of Germans soldiers were killed before they withdrew. On April 19, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler announced that the ghetto was to be emptied of its residents in honor of Hitler’s birthday the following day, and more than 1,000 S.S. soldiers entered the confines with tanks and heavy artillery. Although many of the ghetto’s remaining 60,000 Jewish dwellers attempted to hide themselves in secret bunkers, more than 1,000 ZOB members met the Germans with gunfire and homemade bombs. Suffering moderate casualties, the Germans initially withdrew but soon returned, and on April 24 launched an all-out attack against the Warsaw Jews.

Thousands were slaughtered as the Germans systematically progressed down the ghettos, blowing up the buildings one by one. The ZOB took to the sewers to continue the fight, but on May 8 their command bunker fell to the Germans and their resistant leaders committed suicide. By May 16, the ghetto was firmly under Nazi control, and mass deportation of the last Warsaw Jews to Treblinka began. During the uprising, some 300 German soldiers were killed, and thousands of Warsaw Jews were massacred. Virtually all those who survived the Uprising to reach Treblinka were dead by the end of the war.

Truck bomb explodes at federal building in Oklahoma City

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truck-bomb-explodes-in-oklahoma-city

Just after 9 a.m., a massive truck bomb explodes outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The blast collapsed the north face of the nine-story building, instantly killing more than 100 people and trapping dozens more in the rubble. Emergency crews raced to Oklahoma City from across the country, and when the rescue effort finally ended two weeks later the death toll stood at 168 people killed, including 19 young children who were in the building’s day-care center at the time of the blast.

On April 21, the massive manhunt for suspects in the worst terrorist attack ever committed on U.S. soil by an American resulted in the capture of Timothy McVeigh, a 27-year-old former U.S. Army soldier who matched an eyewitness description of a man seen at the scene of the crime. On the same day, Terry Nichols, an associate of McVeigh’s, surrendered at Herington, Kansas, after learning that the police were looking for him. Both men were found to be members of a radical right-wing survivalist group based in Michigan, and on August 8 John Fortier, who knew of McVeigh’s plan to bomb the federal building, agreed to testify against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for a reduced sentence. Two days later, a grand jury indicted McVeigh and Nichols on murder and conspiracy charges.

While still in his teens, Timothy McVeigh acquired a penchant for guns and began honing survivalist skills he believed would be necessary in the event of a Cold War showdown with the Soviet Union. Lacking direction after high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and proved a disciplined and meticulous soldier. It was during this time that he befriended Terry Nichols, a fellow 13 years his senior, who shared his survivalist interests.

In early 1991, McVeigh served in the Persian Gulf War and was decorated with several medals for a brief combat mission. Despite these honors, he was discharged from the U.S. Army at the end of the year, one of many casualties of the U.S. military downsizing that came after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another result of the Cold War’s end was that McVeigh shifted his ideology from a hatred of foreign communist governments to a suspicion of the U.S. federal government, especially as its new elected leader, Democrat Bill Clinton, had successfully campaigned for the presidency on a platform of gun control.

The August 1992 shoot-out between federal agents and survivalist Randy Weaver at his cabin in Idaho, in which Weaver’s wife and son were killed, followed by the April 19, 1993, inferno near Waco, Texas, that killed some 80 Branch Davidians, deeply radicalized McVeigh, Nichols, and their associates. In early 1995, Nichols and McVeigh planned an attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City, which housed, among other federal agencies, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)–the agency that had launched the initial raid on the Branch Davidian compound in 1993.

On April 19, 1995, the two-year anniversary of the disastrous end to the Waco standoff, McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck loaded with a diesel-fuel-fertilizer bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and fled. Minutes later, the massive bomb exploded, killing 168 people.

On June 2, 1997, McVeigh was convicted on 15 counts of murder and conspiracy, and on August 14, under the unanimous recommendation of the jury, was sentenced to die by lethal injection. Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $200,000 for failing to warn authorities about McVeigh’s bombing plans. Terry Nichols was found guilty on one count of conspiracy and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter, and was sentenced to life in prison.

In December 2000, McVeigh asked a federal judge to stop all appeals of his convictions and to set a date for his execution. Federal Judge Richard Matsch granted the request. On June 11, 2001, McVeigh, 33, died of lethal injection at the U.S. penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. He was the first federal prisoner to be put to death since 1963.

First blood in the Civil War

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-blood-in-the-civil-war

On April 19, 1861, the first blood of the American Civil War is shed when a secessionist mob in Baltimore attacks Massachusetts troops bound for Washington, D.C. Four soldiers and 12 rioters were killed.

One week earlier, on April 12, the Civil War began when Confederate shore batteries opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay. During a 34-hour period, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. The fort’s garrison returned fire, but lacking men, ammunition, and food, it was forced to surrender on April 13. There were no casualties in the fighting, but one federal soldier was killed the next day when a store of gunpowder was accidentally ignited during the firing of the final surrender salute. Two other federal soldiers were wounded, one mortally.

On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln issued a public proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to help put down the Southern “insurrection.” Northern states responded enthusiastically to the call, and within days the 6th Massachusetts Regiment was en route to Washington. On April 19, the troops arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, by train, disembarked, and boarded horse-drawn cars that were to take them across the city to where the rail line picked up again. Secessionist sympathy was strong in Maryland, a border state where slavery was legal, and an angry mob of secessionists gathered to confront the Yankee troops.

Hoping to prevent the regiment from reaching the railroad station, and thus Washington, the mob blocked the carriages, and the troops were forced to continue on foot. The mob followed close behind and then, joined by other rioters, surrounded the regiment. Jeering turned to brick and stone throwing, and several federal troops responded by firing into the crowd. In the ensuing mayhem, the troops fought their way to the train station, taking and inflicting more casualties. At the terminal, the infantrymen were aided by Baltimore police, who held the crowd back and allowed them to board their train and escape. Much of their equipment was left behind. Four soldiers and 12 rioters were killed in what is generally regarded as the first bloodshed of the Civil War.

Maryland officials demanded that no more federal troops be sent through the state, and secessionists destroyed rail bridges and telegraph lines to Washington to hinder the federal war effort. In May, Union troops occupied Baltimore, and martial law was declared. The federal occupation of Baltimore, and of other strategic points in Maryland, continued throughout the war. Because western Marylanders and workingmen supported the Union, and because federal authorities often jailed secessionist politicians, Maryland never voted for secession. Slavery was abolished in Maryland in 1864, the year before the Civil War’s end. Eventually, more than 50,000 Marylanders fought for the Union while about 22,000 volunteered for the Confederacy.

Central Park jogger attack shocks New York City

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/central-park-jogger-attack-shocks-new-york-city

On this day in 1989, a 28-year-old female investment banker is severely beaten and sexually assaulted while jogging in New York City’s Central Park. Five teenagers from Harlem were convicted of the crime, which shocked New Yorkers for its randomness and viciousness and became emblematic of the perceived lawlessness of the city at the time. The case was also racially divisive, as the teens were black and Hispanic and the victim was white.

The “Central Park jogger,” as she became known in the media, was discovered by passerby in a muddy ravine, her skull smashed and near death, hours after she went for a jog in the park around 9 p.m. After being rescued, she spent nearly two weeks in a coma, but surprised doctors by eventually recovering from most of her injuries. However, she remembered nothing about the near-fatal attack or the events leading up to it.

Police quickly charged five male teens with the crime; four made videotaped confessions, while implicating a fifth suspect. The teens were part of a larger group of youths who had been roaming Central Park on the night of April 19, robbing and beating people. The public became familiar with a new term, “wilding,” to describe the gang’s random, violent rampage.

The teens charged in the Central Park jogger attack soon claimed their confessions had been coerced by the police; however, the five were convicted in two separate trials in 1990, and received prison sentences ranging from five to 15 years. Then, in 2002, a convicted murderer and serial rapist, already behind bars, came forward to confess he had attacked the Central Park jogger when he was 17 and had acted alone. DNA evidence later confirmed his rape claim. In December 2002, the convictions of the five men originally charged in the case were overturned. The men later filed multi-million dollar lawsuits against New York City, which were settled for $41 million in 2014.

In 2003, the Central Park jogger, Trisha Meili, publicly revealed her identity by publishing a book about her ordeal. In the years after the attack, she became a motivational speaker and advocate for victims of sexual assault and brain injury.

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback to warn of British attack

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/revere-and-dawes-ride

In Massachusetts, British troops march out of Boston on a mission to confiscate the Patriot arsenal at Concord and to capture Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, known to be hiding at Lexington. As the British departed, Boston Patriots Paul Revere and William Dawes set out on horseback from the city to warn Adams and Hancock and rouse the Patriot minutemen.

By 1775, tensions between the American colonies and the British government approached the breaking point, especially in Massachusetts, where Patriot leaders formed a shadow revolutionary government and trained militias to prepare for armed conflict with the British troops occupying Boston. In the spring of 1775, General Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, received instructions from England to seize all stores of weapons and gunpowder accessible to the American insurgents. On April 18, he ordered British troops to march against Concord and Lexington.

The Boston Patriots had been preparing for such a British military action for some time, and upon learning of the British plan Revere and Dawes set off across the Massachusetts countryside. Taking separate routes in case one of them were captured, Dawes left Boston by the Boston Neck peninsula, and Revere crossed the Charles River to Charlestown by boat. As the two couriers made their way, Patriots in Charlestown waited for a signal from Boston informing them of the British troop movement. As previously agreed, one lantern would be hung in the steeple of Boston’s Old North Church, the highest point in the city, if the British were marching out of the city by Boston Neck, and two if they were crossing the Charles River to Cambridge. Two lanterns were hung, and the armed Patriots set out for Lexington and Concord accordingly. Along the way, Revere and Dawes roused hundreds of minutemen, who armed themselves and set out to oppose the British.

Revere arrived in Lexington shortly before Dawes, but together they warned Adams and Hancock and then set out for Concord. Along the way, they were joined by Samuel Prescott, a young Patriot who had been riding home after visiting a friend. Early in the morning of April 19, a British patrol captured Revere, and Dawes lost his horse, forcing him to walk back to Lexington on foot. However, Prescott escaped and rode on to Concord to warn the Patriots there. After being roughly questioned for an hour or two, Revere was released when the patrol heard minutemen alarm guns being fired on their approach to Lexington.

Around 5 a.m., 700 British troops under Major John Pitcairn arrived at the town to find a 77-man-strong colonial militia under Captain John Parker waiting for them on Lexington’s common green. Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation the Americans began to drift off the green. Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead and 10 others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun.

Suicide bomber destroys U.S. embassy in Beirut

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/suicide-bomber-destroys-u-s-embassy-in-beirut

The U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, is almost completely destroyed by a car-bomb explosion that kills 63 people, including the suicide bomber and 17 Americans. The terrorist attack was carried out in protest of the U.S. military presence in Lebanon.

In 1975, a bloody civil war erupted in Lebanon, with Palestinian and leftist Muslim guerrillas battling militias of the Christian Phalange Party, the Maronite Christian community, and other groups. During the next few years, Syrian, Israeli, and United Nations interventions failed to resolve the factional fighting, and on August 20, 1982, a multinational force featuring U.S. Marines landed in Beirut to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon.

The Marines left Lebanese territory on September 10 but returned on September 29, following the massacre of Palestinian refugees by a Christian militia. The next day, the first U.S. Marine to die during the mission was killed while defusing a bomb, and on April 18, 1983, the U.S. embassy in Beirut was bombed. On October 23, Lebanese terrorists evaded security measures and drove a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. Fifty-eight French soldiers were killed almost simultaneously in a separate suicide terrorist attack. On February 7, 1984, U.S. President Ronald Reagan announced the end of U.S. participation in the peacekeeping force, and on February 26 the last U.S. Marines left Beirut.