Crews Dig Through Toys, Rubble Weather Slows Day-Care Excavation; Agents Continue Manhunt For Suspect
By Saturday, they were digging through toys - grown men, rescue workers, sifting through miniature trucks and teddy bears and shedding tears, as the death toll in the bombed-out federal building remained at 78 and federal agents continued a national manhunt for a second, elusive suspect.
“The firefighters are picking up toys and looking at them and handing them to each other,” said Jon Hansen, assistant fire chief, clutching a red plastic fire truck in the downpour.
“It’s hard to describe, really, having kids in there, hope that there may be a child still alive,” he said. “A broken toy is maybe a sign of broken hearts.”
Medical authorities were struggling to identify the small bodies retrieved from the rubble. They tried matching the tiny arms and legs. They tried identifying the clothing. They tried nearly every option in the forensic fact book.
But in the end, they had to ask the unthinkable. The parents, gathered into a quiet corner of the First Christian Church, were asked if they had photographs of their children smiling that could be used to identify their corpses. Even the medical examiner cried.
“They came to the house a few hours later and took a picture of Tevin,” said Catherine Ross, grandmother of 16-month-old Tevin Garrett, who was in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at the time of the explosion. “He is with his sister in the picture and they are smiling. I don’t know if you can really see his teeth real well. But it is a very pretty smile.”
Downtown at the scene of the bombing, Tevin’s mother, Helena, was standing amid shattered glass and concrete fragments crying out for her baby. Since then, she and Tevin’s father, Jerard, have spent most of their days at the church. On the second night, Helena passed out from the strain, but she is doing better now. Or she was until the medical examiner gathered the parents of the missing children on Friday and asked them for photographs of their children.
“They told us to go home and that officals would come to dust the house for fingerprints,” said Helena Ross. “One of the women broke down. Even the medical examiner had to stop for a while. It was just so, so sad.”
Also Saturday, Weldon Kennedy, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation here, announced that Terry Nichols is being held as a material witness, not a suspect, after his surrender Friday in Kansas. He said the second man depicted in the nationally circulated sketches, with thick hair, a square jaw and a tattoo on his left arm, remained unidentified and at large.
As the manhunt stretched across the country, rescue workers were drenched by a strong, cold rain and chilled by frigid winds that caused a stop in the search at the federal building for nearly two hours out of a fear of further collapse.
A one-story building two blocks from the bomb site collapsed Saturday from damage sustained in the blast. Three workers narrowly escaped the taxi-dispatching business before the roof caved in, authorities said.
Authorities closely watched widening cracks on the south side of the federal building. Rescuers also were worried that lightning would strike metal reinforcing rods exposed by the explosion.
“We’ve got some cracks right now that are widening on us,” said Hansen. He said the cracks were being monitored by time-lapse cameras.
The official death toll as of midafternoon Saturday stood at 78, of which 13 were children. So far, 29 of the dead have been identified, the youngest being 1-year-old Baylee Almon, the infant that was held in the arms of a firefighter in a photograph shown around the world.
The final toll is expected to be well into the triple figures. About 150 people remained missing Saturday afternoon.
Workers were beginning to reach areas on the second floor that housed the Social Security Administration and the day-care center, both of which were pancaked by seven floors of debris.
But hopes that survivors can be found has dimmed because the 72-hour window for how long victims of such disasters generally can survive passed Saturday morning.
All the while, bombing suspect Timothy James McVeigh, who turns 27 today, was in the El Reno Federal Correctional Center. He was charged Friday night with “malicious damaging and destroying by means of an explosive a building or real property, whole or in part, possessed or used in the United States.”
Other more serious charges were expected to follow, in a case in which President Clinton vowed to seek the death penalty. The president and Hillary Clinton plan to fly to Oklahoma City today to attend a memorial service for the victims of the bombing.
John Coyle, McVeigh’s court-appointed lawyer from Oklahoma City, told reporters Saturday that he will seek a change of venue for the anticipated grand jury proceedings because he didn’t believe a fair jury could be chosen here. “I think everyone in this city is a victim,” he said.
Phil Morowski, an acquaintance of McVeigh’s, said that when McVeigh returned from the Persian Gulf War, he complained that the Army had implanted a computer chip in his buttocks.
Kennedy said that Nichols, 40, and his brother, James Douglas Nichols of Decker, Mich., were being held as material witnesses.
On Saturday, authorities gingerly searched Terry Nichols’ home in Herington, Kan., using a specially programmed robot armed with a video camera. Agents were apparently concerned about triggering a booby-trapped explosive device. On Friday, authorities had impounded his pickup truck.
The Dickinson County sheriff’s office in Kansas said Terry Nichols was moved from the county jail in Abilene in midafternoon and placed in federal custody as a material witness.
In Michigan, U.S. marshals took James Nichols from the Sanilac County jail on Saturday, Sheriff Virgil Strickler said. He was expected to face questioning in Oklahoma.
Authorities say McVeigh and Terry Nichols are Army acquaintances. An “arrest” affidavit issued for James Nichols in order to search his home said McVeigh listed James Nichols as his next of kin when McVeigh was booked in Oklahoma.
In the affidavit, a Nichols relative said that “heshe had heard that James Nichols had been involved in constructing bombs in approximately November 1994, and that he possessed large quantities of fuel oil and fertilizer.”