The U.S. government Friday accused a former soldier with ties to the militia movement of bombing the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building to avenge the death of Branch Davidian cult members in a federal attack at Waco, Texas, two years ago.
Timothy McVeigh, 26, was being held in Oklahoma City, captured after a stunning coincidence: a traffic arrest Wednesday morning, less than two hours after the bombing, by an eagle-eyed highway patrolman near Perry, a little town 60 miles away.
After questioning in Perry, he was taken in shackles and handcuffs to a drab, green army helicopter for the flight to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., for the arraignment in a makeshift courtroom.
Heavily armed federal agents escorted him. More than 100 families were in the parking lot when he arrived. When he got out of the blue station wagon, they booed and yelled, “Baby Killer!”
The government released more details of the case at the arraignment. The FBI said a former co-worker told agents McVeigh had extreme right-wing views and was deeply agitated by the fiery federal attack on the Waco compound.
“McVeigh had been so agitated ‘that he had personally visited the site. After visiting the site, McVeigh expressed extreme anger at the federal government and advised that the government never should have done what it did,” according to court documents.
The attack on the federal building came two years to the day after the conflagration at the Waco Davidian compound. Federal agents assaulted the Davidians plywood fortress, an inferno erupted and more than 80 followers of David Koresh, many of them children, were incinerated.
Since that time, the Waco attack has become a rallying cry for rightwing extremists opposed to the federal government.
As the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing proceeded, rescue workers pressed their efforts to find survivors against increasingly bad odds in the devastation that followed the explosion. The wreckage was being searched brick-bybrick. As least 78 bodies had been found.
On Friday afternoon, another man, identified as Terry Nichols and said to be a cousin of McVeigh, surrendered to authorities in Herington, Kan. and was being questioned. It was not known whether he had been charged or whether he was the second suspect being sought in the investigation.
Nichols, 39, recently moved to Herington and lived with a woman and a child. He told neighbors he had recently retired from the military.
In a related development, a small army of heavily armed FBI agents in black jump suits surrounded a white farmhouse in Decker, Mich., some 60 miles north of Detroit, owned by Nichol’s brother, James Douglas Nichols. They said they were looking for evidence, but did not elaborate. One unidentified man was led away from the house in handcuffs, according to witnesses.
There was a strong indication in the affidavit in the McVeigh charge about why the authorities went to Nichols’ Michigan farm.
The document said “an unnamed relative of James Nichols and a friend of McVeigh ‘heard’ that Nichols was involved in making bombs in November of 1994 and had access to fertilizer and fuel oil.”
Authorities have said the bomb was made from fertilizer and fuel oil and have been searching for the source of the supplies since Wednesday.
Whether McVeigh would be the only person accused of the actual bombing, or whether he was a link in a longer chain, remained to be seen. Federal authorities were extraordinarily tight-lipped about the case and stressed at every point that the investigation was continuing.
“He is very polite. Very military. All ‘yes, sir,’ and ‘no, sir’,” said one courthouse official in Perry. He said McVeigh had told local authorities he was born in Europe, had a Michigan address but was living on the road after recently being released from the military. His parents live outside of Buffalo, N.Y.
The Nichols connection to the matter was not clear, although sources told reporters that they were viewed at this point as witnesses, not suspects.
Investigators believe that all three men may have ties to the Michigan Militia, a paramilitary group that opposes gun control and believes that the federal government is conspiring to deprive citizens of their rights. But a spokesman for the Michigan Militia, which claims as many as 10,000 adherents, denied any knowledge of the Nicholses and said the group had no connection to the bombing.
There was no doubt in Washington, though, that the investigators felt they were closing the net on the people responsible for the tragedy.
“We will find them and we will convict them and we will seek the death penalty,” said President Clinton in an afternoon briefing in which he praised federal investigators, saying their vigilance “makes me sure that we will solve this crime in its entirety and that justice will prevail.”
While McVeigh was under intense questioning, rescue workers continued picking through the debris created by the blast. There was a diminishing chance that anyone would be found alive.
They were heading downward through the debris toward the remains of the second floor, the location of a day care center where at least a dozen children were killed. It was still unclear how many children were in the day care center at breakfast Wednesday, when the bomb exploded.The announcement of the charg es against McVeigh, and the surrender of Nichols fueled speculation that the explosion was planned as an act of revenge by antigovernment, extreme right radicals. The FBI’s affidavit made it clear that revenge for the Davidian attack was behind the bombing.
Little information was available on McVeigh or Nichols, other than that they had served in the military together and McVeigh was believed connected to a group called “The Patriots.”
But there were signs in the way McVeigh was arrested that the FBI probably knew who it was looking for quite some time before federal authorities issued police sketches of the suspects.
McVeigh was in the Noble County Jail awaiting a hearing on some state traffic and gun charges while Attorney General Janet Reno was releasing the sketchings Thursday of the men who rented the Ryder Rental Truck in Junction City, Kan. that was used for the bombing.
Trooper Charlie Hanger was on patrol on Interstate 35 near Perry at 10:20 a.m. Wednesday - the bombing was at 9:05 a.m. - when he saw an old yellow Mercury speeding along with no license plates. He stopped the car and arrested its driver after finding two concealed weapons - a 9mm pistol and a knife - inside the driver’s jacket.
Hanger put McVeigh’s name and Social Security number into the National Crime Information Computer, according to Noble County Assistant Prosecutor Mark Gibson, and the minute the FBI reviewed the information, it notified the county to hold McVeigh.
He was hours away from being released on bond on the traffic and weapons charges when a lawman handed Gibson a note saying: “This man is the bomber.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: The toll Dead: 78 Injured: 200 Missing: 150 How to help Relief funds have been set up by the following organizations: The American Red Cross, 326-3330. Catholic Charities, 456-7150.