'Terrance Yeakey Didn't Kill Himself': A Widow's Search for Closure

For nearly 30 years, Tonia Rivera's husband has been accused of violently killing himself despite glaring inconsistencies surrounding his death

'Terrance Yeakey Didn't Kill Himself': A Widow's Search for Closure

On the evening of May 8, 1996, Sgt. Terrance Yeakey's body was found in a field near his hometown of El Reno, Oklahoma with slashed wrists, a slashed throat, and a gunshot wound to his head.

His vehicle was found roughly a mile-and-a-half away on the side of a nearby road with the seats unbolted, floor boards torn up, and side panels removed. Two to three liters of Yeakey's blood filled the interior of the car.

A gun holster and razor blade were found in the police sergeant's car, which was covered in his blood.

Despite being found in neighboring Canadian County, the Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) responded to the scene of their colleague's death and swiftly determined Yeakey had self-harmed, locked his doors, rolled up his windows, and walked a mile-and-a-half into the field where he shot himself in the head.

An autopsy was not conducted.

OCPD did not release a copy of their report on Yeakey's death.

Just one year prior, the then-husband and father of two was one of the first to respond to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building where he rescued several people from the rubble after the Oklahoma City bombing. The OKC police officer was scheduled to be honored with a medal of valor for his heroic efforts on Apr. 19, 1995 — just three days after his body was discovered.

Several theories surfaced which attempted to explain the OCPD sergeant's sudden and mysterious death. Some pointed towards his recent divorce from wife, Tonia Rivera-Yeakey, who had filed a victim’s protective order (VPO) against her husband in February 1995 for a previous matter. Others suggested Yeakey was overcome with PTSD and guilt over his inability to save more survivors from the rubble of the bombing site after sustaining an injury during his final rescue that day. One theory even claimed the OCPD sergeant, who was an instructor in the anti-drug educational program Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), was battling a drug addiction himself.

However, family and those close with Sergeant Yeakey reject those theories and believe Terrance was murdered.

According to official reports on the OKC bombing, 26-year-old Army veteran Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck planted with a bomb made of "agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals" outside the Alfred P. Murrah building where it later detonated and killed 168 people, injuring hundreds of others. It was later discovered that McVeigh was also assisted by accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, who were later charged.

Having been on the scene within minutes of the explosion, Yeakey became suspicious by a nearly immediate presence of federal agents at the site shortly after the bombing. Surveying the wreckage, the OKC sergeant also noticed signs which indicated the devastating explosion may have come from inside the building. Yeakey worked tirelessly for hours searching through the rubble for survivors. During his final rescue of maintenance worker Randy Ledger with fellow officer Michael Loudenslager, Yeakey fell two stories through the rubble and was transported to Presbyterian Hospital after sustaining injuries.

Despite having filed a VPO against Yeakey months before the bombing, Rivera received a call from the hospital informing her of her husband's injuries and was asked to pick him up. Upon her arrival, Yeakey unloaded his concerns over what he experienced at the bombing site and even claimed he was threatened while in the hospital.

“Tonia, it’s not what they’re saying it is,” Yeakey told Rivera. “They’re not telling the truth. They’re lying about what’s going on down there.”

[caption id="attachment_1104822" align="alignnone" width="816"] Terrance Yeakey at Taft Middle School[/caption]

While an overwhelming majority of media coverage on Yeakey's death has speculated his alleged PTSD, guilt, and relationship with Rivera played a role in his untimely death, few reports have attempted to delve into glaring inconsistencies surrounding the alleged suicide.

In April 1997, The Washington Weekly's David Hoffman published "THE DEATH OF OKLAHOMA CITY POLICE OFFICER TERRANCE YEAKEY." Hoffman's piece provided an in-depth analysis of Yeakey's character as an officer, depicted him as a "reluctant hero" in the aftermath of the OKC bombing, and provided a series of accounts from surrounding figures including Rivera.

Rivera later participated in a radio interview with former police officer Craig Roberts in 1998 where she said her husband Terry was "threatened" by OCPD after beginning an independent investigation into the bombing. Although the couple had officially divorced by late 1995, Rivera said her husband became increasingly worried about his family and pleaded with Rivera to remarry. Upon their divorce, the VPO previously filed by Rivera in early 1995 was ordered to be dropped, according to a court document provided to SCNR.

"This is the only way I can make sure you and the girls are taken care of in the event that something happens to me," Yeakey told Rivera, though requested she not press him further on the matter.

Feeling as though investigation into her husband's death had reached a dead-end, Rivera developed an aversion to speaking with media, though conducted her own independent investigations over the ensuing 25 years.

Roberts, also a former Marine, wrote a letter to OCPD in 2006 stating that he believed Yeakey's death pointed towards a "torture/homicide." According to Roberts, the trajectory of the bullet entrance wound on Yeakey was "consistent to one fired 'execution style' into the skull of a kneeling victim."

"There were multiple cuts on his wrists, inner elbows, and jugular veins. If he was going to shoot himself, why would he cut himself so many times?” he wrote.

Then-Police Chief William Citty responded to Roberts' letter, "I find nothing in the investigator’s case files or from the information you have provided that changes the finding of suicide," though did not address other concerns raised by the former Marine.

In early 2023, Rivera received a call from a CNN reporter who identified himself as Thomas Lake. The CNN reporter said he was investigating Yeakey and wanted to interview Rivera for his piece. Rivera briefly spoke with Lake, who was persistent, though said during an interview with SCNR that she cut contact with the CNN reporter due to concern that the outlet would similarly claim the dynamics of their marriage, along with Yeakey's PTSD and guilt, were a catalyst for his death.

Lake's article, subsequently published in March, featured accounts from other surrounding figures not covered in Hoffman's 1997 article including fellow OCPD officers including Don Browning, a 28-year veteran of the OCPD who assisted Terrance in his initial police training, and Steve Vassar. Both officers confirmed they did not believe official reports on Yeakey's death and insisted their former colleague was not suicidal. Fellow former OCPD officer Jim Ramsey, who originally agreed Yeakey had in fact committed suicide in Hoffman's piece, notably changed his tune in CNN's publication.

When asked if he believed Yeakey committed suicide, Ramsey said, "No ... I guess I don't."

Lake reported reaching a series of dead ends during his investigation of OCPD records on Yeakey. When asked why an autopsy was not conducted, OCPD Master Sgt. Gary Knight referred the CNN reporter to the Oklahoma state medical examiner's office. Director of operations, Kari Learned, told Lake the office "does not answer case specific questions."

The CNN reporter also inquired why OCPD took over the investigation of Yeakey's death when he was found in Canadian County, to which Knight said he didn't know. In an email to CNN, Knight said there was "absolutely no hard or physical evidence whatsoever" to indicate Yeakey had been murdered.

“Anyone who suggests the Oklahoma City Police Department participated in the coverup of the murder of one its most popular officers is engaging in fool’s folly," wrote Knight, who said he knew Yeakey and considered him a friend.

Knight and Police Chief Wade Gourley declined to be interviewed by the outlet.

Vassar also told CNN that Major Steve Upchurch had claimed Rivera reported Yeakey for violating her VPO and said the OCPD officer was being placed on administrative leave and would be stripped of his firearm and badge. Upchurch contested Vassar's claim and said he had no recollection of his comment nor Yeakey's trouble with Rivera. Upchurch also didn't recall Yeakey being reprimanded by superiors following the bombing.

Later, in 2023, Terrance's widow became aware of internet personality and podcaster Jose Galison, who has released a video series covering inconsistencies in the official OKC bombing narrative along with deep dives into a series of other questionable deaths surrounding the bombing which include veteran Kenneth Trentadue, and Yeakey.

Rivera contacted Galison and participated in a joint interview with the podcaster and SCNR where she detailed her nearly 30-year search for closure after her husband's mysterious death.


Commenting on her decision to end contact with Lake, Rivera said she felt "uncomfortable" with a lack of disclosure regarding a potential interview with CNN. She also expressed concern that the article may have been looking to get "mileage" out of Yeakey's story by "recycling" it to align with current political events and race relations in America as the couple were not only interracial but had two biracial children.

"I didn't know what angle he was coming from," she said. "None of those things were explained."

Rivera said she was pleasantly surprised with Lake's report and lauded new information revealed in the article. She said she was glad she decided to step away from the CNN report as she believed her participation may have "overshadowed" other aspects of Lake's article.

"Overall, I was surprised that it even attempted to cover it as well as it did," she said.

According to previous reports of the OKC bombing, Yeakey saved three to four people from the rubble. However, Rivera claims her husband may have saved more.

"Terry acknowledge six to eight, but he mentioned finding a child’s body early on," she said.

Rivera also confirmed she was not allowed to receive OCPD's official report on Yeakey's death and was instead provided a letter by which OCPD Chief of Police Sam Gonzales detailed their decision to deny her request.

"The Oklahoma City Police Department makes every effort to balance the privacy and other rights of victims, witnesses and/or suspects with the public's right to receive information as required by the Oklahoma Open Records Act," reads the letter, reviewed by SCNR. "The law provides only certain arrest and or initial crime incident information shall be considered an open record. All other records including investigative information and reports are therefore, confidential and are not disclosed to the public. Nevertheless, the department makes every effort to edit crime incident reports with confidential information to the extent possible to allow the release to assist citizens."

Letter From Chief Sam Gonzales by Christopher Charles

"While I recognize your unique relationship and concerns in this situation, release of an 'unedited' copy would establish a precedent that would undermine the department's investigative ability, and do a disservice and possibly violate the rights of other persons involved in other matters and be contrary to the Open Records Act," the letter concludes.

[caption id="attachment_1105044" align="alignnone" width="638"] Yeakey in the military during Desert Storm[/caption]

Although the fellow colleague of Yeakey's expressed sympathy and said he eventually believed he was murdered, Rivera noted Ramsey, who claimed to have been a friend, was not as close with her husband as previously reported.

Rivera said Ramsey was friendly, though an "acquaintance." She said her husband felt uncomfortable around Ramsey and added the two had stopped communication at one point.

"He didn't always feel comfortable with the way Jim would sometimes get a little too loose with stuff," she said.

According to Hoffman's report, Ramsey insisted Yeakey's relationship with Rivera contributed to his suicide. Rivera claimed Ramsey was "keeping tabs on everyone" and appeared to become obsessive over Yeakey's death at the time of Hoffman's article.

"He was showing up in a lot of places ... just casually," she said. "In fact, places where he knew that people knew me just as well as they knew Terry and weren't buying into the 'it's Tonia's fault' routine," she said.

However, Rivera said she had softened towards Ramsey after indicating he didn't believe Yeakey was suicidal in CNN's article.

Despite having filed a VPO against her husband, Rivera said their relationship had drastically improved after the bombing.

"Whatever problems we had were prior to the bombing," she said, "and after the bombing occurred, it was kind of his 'come to Jesus' moment."

However, despite their improved relationship after the bombing, Yeakey claimed Chief Gonzales had threatened to terminate the OCPD sergeant unless he divorced Rivera.

Yeakey increasingly expressed concern over Rivera and their daughter's safety, she added.

After picking her husband up from the hospital, Yeakey requested Rivera drive and accompany him to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building after hours where the couple were apprehended by an agent who appeared to recognize the OCPD sergeant. The agent instructed the two to leave and Yeakey, fearing for his wife's safety, told Rivera not to return to the bomb site.

"Whenever Terry said something very firmly, it was an understood between us," she said. "I was just trying to be a sweet wife and compassionate towards him."

Although Yeakey would frequently discuss his work with Rivera, the OCPD sergeant became secretive during his independent investigation.

Per demand by a supervisor, Yeakey produced a nine-page report on his experience at the bomb site. However, Yeakey was later informed the report had been "lost" and was instructed to write another report, though was specifically told to write a single page worth of information.

[caption id="attachment_1105043" align="alignnone" width="728"] Tonia Rivera-Yeakey and Terrance Yeakey [Christmas 1991][/caption]Along with Rivera, Romona McDonald, who Yeakey met in the rubble of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, is another source who has corroborated what the OKC officer witnessed on the ground. According to a letter penned to McDonald, another man who was present at the site on the day of the bombing told officers to "back off."

“I was told by several officers he was a [sic] ATF agent who was overseeing the bombing plot and at the time the photos were taken he was calling in his report of what had just went down!” Yeakey wrote in his letter to Ramona, published in Hoffman's article.

Yeakey also expressed worry that his mental state was being questioned along with his relationship with Rivera.

"Knowing what I know now, and understanding fully just what went down that morning, makes me ashamed to wear a badge from Oklahoma City's Police Department," he wrote. "I took an oath to uphold the Law and to enforce the Law to the best of my ability. This is something I cannot honestly do and hold my head up proud any longer if I keep my silence as I am ordered to do."

Although others were present in the wreckage, Yeakey believed some may have played a role in the event, according to the OKC officer. Yeakey said he noticed a series of federal agents who had arrived on the scene almost immediately after the bombing.

"It was the feds who did this," he wrote, "not the locals."

"I truly believe there are other officers like me out there who would not settle for anything but the truth, it is just a matter of finding them," his letter reads, though questioned who he and fellow officers could turn to about their concerns. "Keep asking questions and demanding answers for the actions of our federal government and law enforcement agencies that knew beforehand and participated in the cover-up."

Yeakey's letter continued:

The sad truth of the matter is that they have so many police officers convinced that by covering up the truth about the operation gone wrong, that they are actually doing our citizens a favor. What I want to know is how many other operations have they had that blew up in their faces? Makes you stop and take another look at Waco. I would consider it to be an insult to my profession as a police officer and to the citizens of Oklahoma for ANY of the City, State or Federal agents that stood by and let this happen to be recognized as any thing other than their part in participation in letting this happen. For those who ran from the scene to change their attire to hide the fact that they were there, should be judged as cowards.

"If our history books and records are ever truly corrected about that day it will show this and maybe even some lame excuse as to why it happened, but I truly don't believe it will from what I now know to be the truth," he concluded.

[caption id="attachment_1105042" align="alignnone" width="730"] Tonia Rivera-Yeakey and Terrance Yeakey, with daughter Sheridan [1994][/caption]Rivera said she met McDonald, who was part of the nonprofit Heroes of the Heart along with other family and survivors of the OKC bombing, in April 1997. According to Rivera, there were two factions of family and survivors of the OKC bombing: one group that "[towed] the line" of the official bombing narrative, and another faction that questioned official reports. Rivera noted she was the most stubborn and continued asking questions after others stopped.

Rivera corroborated Yeakey's letter to McDonald saying her husband had divulged his concerns over the bombing with her during his independent investigation.

“I’m no hero,” Yeakey would reportedly say, appearing to have knowledge of something nefarious behind the scenes. “Nobody that had anything to do with helping those people in that bombing are heroes.”

McDonald's house became a meeting place for Heroes of the Heart where photos and other documents from survivors were collected. On one occasion, two men, whom McDonald believed to be federal agents, showed up to her residence and claimed they were on a task force investigating the bombing. The men examined McDonald's mounting collection of evidence she accrued through Heroes of the Heart over the course of several hours. McDonald previously claimed to have a copy of Yeakey's police report, though said it disappeared after the men visited.

Canadian County officers originally investigating Yeakey's death were invited to speak at a Heroes of the Heart meeting, though no officers attended a meeting. In lieu of attending, another unknown Canadian County officer hand-delivered a letter to McDonald and Heroes of the Heart.

"To The Friends of Terry Yeakey, I am not sure who to address this letter to since I really don't know that much about any of you, including Terry's family," reads the letter, which was provided to SCNR by Rivera. "I was told late in the afternoon on the 14th of December, that there was a small group of individuals along with a few family members [of] Terry's that was meeting at a home off 16th and Rockwell in Oklahoma City and was invited along with others to discuss the circumstances of Terry Yeakey's death."

Letter From Canadian County... by Christopher Charles

The letter continued:

The Officers from our area have all been ordered not to discuss this among themselves or anyone outside this office. This standing order includes OKC police officers, press, family members of the SLAIN OFFICER, as well as personal family members of the officers in this office. All of our files on Terence Yeakey were turned over to the Chief of Police in OKC within one week of Mr. Yeakey's death, at the request of the Governor of Oklahoma and the FBI. We were ordered away from the crime scene within one hour of discovery and our officers were told was this was a FEDERAL INVESTIGATION and A FEDERAL CRIME SCENE, (which was later denied this was stated). We were under the impression that Mr. Yeakey was an outstanding officer in his field with the Oklahoma City Police Department, (which was later denied also). We are always saddened by the death of any officer no matter what the circumstances. The death of Mr. Yeakey was deeply felt by many who had known him personally.

"Any statements, theories, speculations or reports from officers or deputies of Canadian County should be disregarded concerning this matter," the letter concluded. "With deep regrets we are UNABLE to help you in this matter, but do wish you find the answers to your questions, as well as ours. YOUR FRIENDS OF THE CITY OF EL RENO."

After Yeakey's original report was lost by OCPD, Rivera said "lots of weird incidents" began happening around her house.

Rivera said on numerous occasions her car was vandalized with four to five nails in each of her tires at a time. SCNR reviewed police reports of vandalism and theft filed by Rivera. Yeakey, who claimed he was threatened and reprimanded by supervisors, said he was given an ominous warning that the department was aware he had discussed information about the bombing with Rivera.

Six weeks prior to Yeakey's death, Rivera relocated from her then-residence out of fear for her safety.

Vassar's claim about Upchurch was corroborated by Rivera, who said she was told to file a VPO violation against her husband after the department learned the couple had reunited since the bombing.

“I never signed it,” she said, insisting she only visited the department out of concern for her husband, who had sustained threats from supervisors and had become increasingly distant amid his ongoing investigation.

Yeakey reportedly informed McDonald that two men requested an appointment with him to discuss what he learned in his own investigation. The men specifically expressed interest in the photos and other documents Yeakey had collected. According to Yeakey's description of the men, McDonald believed they were the same alleged federal agents who previously searched her house.

Although Yeakey expressed hesitation about talking with the men, he agreed to meet and thought they may be able to help expose what he had discovered in the year since the bombing. Out of caution, Yeakey reportedly decided against attending the meeting with his firearm. He was found dead later that same day.

After Yeakey's death, Rivera experienced another series of "weird incidents" after relocating a second time closer to Yeakey's surviving family.

On one occasion, Rivera arrived home to find her front door removed from its hinges. She also found a white balloon tied to a dresser in her bedroom. The front of the balloon read, "I heard you were sick" and the back continued, "This will keep you better until you get well." Rivera also said her new home appeared to have been burglarized.

[caption id="attachment_1104812" align="alignnone" width="555"] Yeakey [top] with adoptive grandmother Inez Bell [left], biological mother Juanita Yeakey [right] and nieces[/caption]

During her time with the employee assistance program (EAP), Rivera said she found recordings of conversations she publicly had "in broad daylight" on her office's voicemail machine.

In an effort to ease her nerves, Rivera employed the help of several sources of influence who worked within the government to investigate the odd occurrences. After looking into the matter, both sources separately told Rivera to "let it go" and warned she "[wasn't] paranoid enough."

Rivera noted it has been "a bit quieter" in the close to 30 years since her husband's death, though said in 2011 she discovered the Yeakey estate had been "open and languishing" since his death. Shortly after obtaining the Yeakey estate, Rivera's second marriage dissolved. She believes her second husband, who worked in the Oklahoma state government, may have been "bullied" into dissolving their marriage over her efforts to obtain the Yeakey estate.

In 2017, Rivera discovered unclaimed funds in the name of Terrance and Tonia Yeakey. Rivera learned a change had been made to an asset listed on an unclaimed funds report one week prior to her husband's death, according to a document reviewed by SCNR. Per a letter from OCPD, Rivera was removed as a beneficiary shortly after their late 1995 divorce by Yeakey.

"Shortly after the divorce, Mr. Yeakey changed the beneficiary on his policies," the letter provided by Rivera reads. "Mr. Yeakey had the legal right to change the beneficiary of his policies; and any proceeds of said policies could be paid outside any probate of his estate."

Rivera contacted the Better Business Bureau (BBB) regarding her removal as a beneficiary. Upon their investigation, the BBB confirmed Rivera was still listed as a beneficiary on the date of her husband's death and further noted a Release of All Claims was sent to her in June of that year.

"Regrettably, a signed copy of that document was not returned and all future attempts to contact Ms. Dunn were returned as 'undeliverable'. Mr. Yeakey's account was ultimately deemed abandoned on August 23, 2016 and the funds were escheated to the state of Oklahoma on July 17, 2017," the BBB report reads.

[caption id="attachment_1105041" align="alignnone" width="549"] Terrance Yeakey with daughter McKenna [1992][/caption]According to other documents provided by Rivera, Yeakey's surviving family was not compensated by OCPD for injuries sustained at the bombing site despite Yeakey signing and submitting his worker's compensation paperwork by April 19, 1996.

"These are the things you would do to a surviving family to bend them and make them more pliable," Rivera said. "If it was a simple suicide, why the rest of this game?"

Rivera noted the mystery surrounding her husband's death was "still alive and kicking," to which Galison agreed there was a "big push for OKC truth" in recent years.

"There's many people that are not with us anymore that were at that site," Rivera said. "I'm just not willing to find it acceptable that we can just say, 'There's no hard evidence.'"

"The story is not aging well," Rivera said, adding her husband's death has become hard to ignore as time passed.

Regarding the mounting testimony and evidence suggesting her husband had in fact been murdered, Yeakey's widow said, "They don't have the goods ... Everything points to something's wrong with this story."

"This is not what happens in a simple suicide," she continued. "This is a simple murder case."

Feeling as though she has reached the end of her investigation into her husband's death, Rivera says her husband was entitled to have his death certificate changed to reflect his death was not a suicide.

Rivera said at times it feels like her daughters also lost another parent in herself amid her nearly 30-year search for answers.

"I tried to give them some good times in their childhood, but you cannot make up for the loss of a father," she said. "It's not fair to them."

[caption id="attachment_1104809" align="alignnone" width="549"] Tonia Rivera-Yeakey with daughters Sheridan Rivera-Yeakey [top] and McKenna Rivera-Yeakey [bottom] in April, 1996[/caption]Rivera says McKenna, born in 1992, has fond memories of her father, though Sheridan, born in 1994, does not.

"When you do this to a family, and you could have stopped that pain, and given us what we needed to move on," she said, adding her family had been stripped of their means of finding closure.

Rivera also said she had a close relationship with her husband's mother, Juanita Yeakey, who passed in 1995.

"He knew how to love because of her," she said.

"I carry water for my family and my husband. This is about telling his story and keeping things straight, and also taking care of the people I care about," Rivera said of herself and their children. "If they had just done their job, my family wouldn't be dealing with, year after year, a conspiracy that is life-shattering."

Being relegated to the realm of conspiracy was "the most undesirable place to be," she added.

"[Terry] has been accused of violently murdering himself based on cynical speculation, not solid investigative work," Rivera said. "It’s negligent to him and his family."

Rivera said she has grown weary living more than half her life with attacks and libel against her and her relationship with her husband, which she says is a direct result of multiple authorities and reporters failing to properly investigate his death. The mother of two expressed concern that the attacks and libel against her and her family will continue until authorities are made to change their initial findings.

"If they had done their job, and it was a simple suicide, then my family would not have gone through this pain," she continued. "People can survive a suicide. People can understand when people decide that they can't do it anymore."

"What they have done to my family is inexcusable. They do not have the evidence," Rivera said. "He's entitled to have his death certificate changed to reflect that he did not kill himself."

*For corrections please email [email protected]*