Fbi Rules Out Bystander In Bomb Attack John Doe No. 2 Cleared
After a massive manhunt, FBI agents investigating the Oklahoma City bombing have found the man they believe to be John Doe No. 2, and decided he had nothing to do with the explosion.
The Justice Department said in a short statement Wednesday night, however, that the FBI was still trying to determine whether there was yet another man with bombing defendant Timothy James McVeigh when he rented the Ryder rental truck that was used in the April 19 attack. But that also left open the possibility that the witnesses on whom the FBI relied had been mistaken. The man who was cleared is a heavyset Army private from Fort Riley, Kan., named Todd David Bunting, 23, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
Sketches depicting the square-jawed, tattooed John Doe No. 2 along with press releases saying he “should be considered armed and dangerous” have blanketed the country since the FBI first described a man who helped McVeigh rent the truck at Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City, Kan., on April 17, two days before the bombing.
Bunting, who reportedly has a tattoo on his left arm, had been at Elliott’s when he and a friend returned another Ryder truck they had been using.
Bunting’s wife, Denise, told the Florence (S.C.) Morning News, which first identified Bunting last week, that FBI agents first questioned her husband around May 20 or 21 at Fort Riley.
She said the FBI told her husband that they thought he was John Doe No. 2, and were sure he was not involved with the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City.
“They told Todd that, but they didn’t tell me that, not in so many words at least,” Denise Bunting was quoted as saying in the South Carolina paper’s June 7 editions. “They just told Todd that the person who gave them the description (of John Doe 2) … might have gotten confused and that it turned out to be a mistake, that (Todd) had nothing to do with it.”
In its statement, the Justice Department did not name Bunting, saying only that the FBI had interviewed “an individual who was in Elliott’s Shop in Junction City on a day other than the day (April 17, 1995) that the truck that contained the explosives that damaged the Murrah Building was rented.”
“That individual resembles the sketch previously circulated as the second of two men who rented the truck on April 17 and who has been called John Doe 2. The Bureau has determined that the individual who has been interviewed was not connected with the bombing. The FBI is continuing to investigate whether there was a second man who participated in the rental of the Ryder truck April 17.”
What that means, sources said, is that the witnesses who described John Doe 2 might have been mistaken and that McVeigh was alone when he rented the truck - or that he had someone with him.
Bob Elliott, owner of the body shop and the man principally responsible for the description of John Doe 2 as well as one that matched McVeigh, has refused to talk to reporters in the past and held firm to that decision Wednesday.
“I ain’t making no comment on it,” he said when contacted about the development. “That’s my privilege.”
Defense lawyers took heart in the confusion. McVeigh’s chief attorney, Stephen Jones of Enid, Okla., maintained that the development would strengthen his case. “If they have decided John Doe 2 is innocent, what does that say about the witnesses that claim to have seen him with John Doe No. 1, my client?” Jones asked. “Obviously either the witnesses or the government are confused, or perhaps both.”
The same witnesses who described John Doe 2 for the FBI Elliott and two of his employees - also gave the FBI a description of John Doe 1 that looked exactly like McVeigh. That triggered an intense search during which putative John Doe 2’s have been sighted from coast to coast, at one point an AWOL soldier from California, at another a drifter tracked down to a Missouri motel, at yet another, the 12-year-old son of Terry Nichols, the only other man to be charged in the bombing thus far.
In fact, as soon as the FBI released the composite sketches of John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 on April 20, people all over Junction City, Kan., began claiming to have seen them together. One man said he was certain he saw the pair a week earlier at a local convenience store and at a bar on the town’s main drag. A woman at a Texaco Food Mart said she recalled the two as cash-paying suspects who bought gas several times during the previous two months.
Bunting, a fighting vehicle infantryman, has so far declined comment. He joined the Army in March of 1994 and was trained at Fort Benning, Ga. According to his wife’s account in the Florence Morning News, he was helping Sgt. Paul Hertig, also of Fort Riley, move onto the base from an off-base residence. Hertig had rented a Ryder truck for the move and he and Bunting returned it within a day of McVeigh’s appearance the outlet.