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Ex-trooper Charlie Hanger shares story about day he arrested Timothy McVeigh

Bryan Painter

August 29, 2009

PERRY — Charlie Hanger parked the white Dodge Ram sheriff’s pickup near the west door of the white stone Noble County Courthouse on Wednesday morning.

Hanger, now in a second term as Noble County sheriff, passed through the door headed for a county excise board meeting on the second floor.

Rewind 14 years and four months to another Wednesday morning.

Hanger, an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper, parks his 1994 Chevrolet trooper’s unit near the same courthouse, same door. The purpose of that trip was to book Timothy McVeigh into the county jail on the fourth floor. The trooper arrested the 26-year-old on a firearms offense after noticing the bulge of a loaded handgun underneath the driver’s partially zipped-up windbreaker.

Hanger spoke Friday during the "First Person: Stories of Hope” summer series at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. To gain some insight into Hanger’s life, past and present, The Oklahoman traveled to Perry on Wednesday in advance of this week’s speech.

In 2004 Hanger was elected sheriff of this county of about 735 square miles. Last year, he was unopposed in a bid for re-election and is now eight months into this second term.

Growing up in nearby Pawnee, and with more than a quarter-century with the patrol, Hanger came to know a lot of sheriffs in the area. He started thinking about it.

"Probably as early as the early ’80s, I thought that might be something I wanted to do when I retired,” he said.

On Wednesday he was headed to the county excise board meeting on the second floor of the courthouse. Managing a department of about 20 employees and a new multimillion-dollar county jail requires Hanger to keep a close eye on the budget.

"From my point of view, that was a way I could come back and give back to my community where I live,” Hanger said.

That day on I-35
Hanger, standing behind his patrol car door, said "Driver get out of the car.” The Mercury had no license plate. Two wheels of the car were on the shoulder and two on the grass. McVeigh swung around and paused sitting on the edge of his seat.

"I think he was going to see if I was going to walk up there,” Hanger said.

Then the driver stepped out with nothing in his hands. Seeing this, Hanger met him between the cars. He questioned him. McVeigh failed to produce a bill of sale and proof of insurance. So Hanger asked for his license. When McVeigh reached for the license that’s when Hanger noticed the bulge of the Glock. After asking him to unzip the jacket, McVeigh said "I have a gun.” Hanger drew his gun, told McVeigh to get his hands up, turned him around and told him to walk to the trunk of the 1977 Mercury Marquis.

"About half way there, he says ‘My weapon is loaded,’ and I thought he was trying to intimidate me,” Hanger said. "And I nudged him with the barrel of mine back there, and I said ‘Well so is mine.’ He just continued to walk.”

The handgun was in a holster that had the barrel pointing toward McVeigh’s armpit.

Hanger remembered: "When we got to the trunk, and I spread him out and opened that jacket back, then I thought the reason he said ‘My weapon is loaded’ is because I’ve got a death grip on it. He’s afraid I’m going to discharge it right into his arm.”

McVeigh also had an extra magazine for the gun and was carrying a knife. After collecting everything, Hanger took McVeigh to Perry, through the courthouse’s west door and up to the fourth floor to the jailer on duty, Marsha Moritz.

Two days later, federal agents found McVeigh was still in the Noble County jail after identifying him as a suspect in the bombing.

Sharing memories
On Friday at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, Hanger took a crowd of about 100 people back to that Wednesday in 1995.

His memories included the fact that coverage of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was on the television as Moritz was booking McVeigh into the Noble County jail.

That day, Moritz and Hanger talked as they watched the coverage. McVeigh didn’t join in.

"I would catch him looking up at the TV occasionally,” Hanger said, "but he didn’t say anything.”

2005 The Oklahoman, NEWS 9 and Oklahoma City National Memorial.
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