Federal investigators, hunting for John Doe No. 2 in the Oklahoma City bombing, raised the possibility Tuesday that the 12-year-old son of a key figure in the case could be that elusive target.
Officials said they have no evidence that the boy, Joshua Nichols, had knowledge of the terrorist attack, only that he might have accompanied Timothy McVeigh when he rented the truck believed used in the blast.
Attempts to link the boy to the case were derided by a family spokesman, who said the FBI is trying to pressure the father into cooperating. But others deemed it a possibility, describing the 12-year-old as a husky young man who is close to his father, Terry Nichols.
Meanwhile, federal authorities have filed a sealed complaint charging Nichols, former Army buddy of accused bomber McVeigh, with blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, government sources said Tuesday.
Nichols is scheduled to be transported to Oklahoma City today from Wichita, Kan., where he has been held as a material witness in the bombing and as a defendant in an unrelated explosives conspiracy charge. McVeigh and Nichols have been described as sharing a hatred of the federal government.
The complaint against Terry Nichols was sealed, one source said, to give the court advance notice to look for defense counsel in hopes of avoiding the shuffle that occurred with attorneys representing McVeigh. The two lawyers who originally defended McVeigh succeeded in removing themselves from the case, noting that they had known victims of the worst terrorist act committed on U.S. soil.
David J. Phillips, the chief public defender in Kansas who helped with Terry Nichols’ defense in Wichita, said he thinks his client is close to being charged in the bombing. But he said he is unsure of what the exact charge would be.
Officials emphasized that they were concerned for the welfare of Nichols’ son and the potential strain placed on him by the latest bizarre twist of the three-week inquiry.
“While investigators need to clear this up, they are all very concerned about all the attention being focused on a 12-yearold boy,” said one official.
The FBI’s spokesman in Oklahoma City, Dan Vogel, refused to comment.
Others familiar with the investigation said they are hopeful the boy can be of help because he was visiting his father in Kansas during the week before the bombing.
“Investigators are giving some credibility to the possibility that the composite is actually a composite of Terry Nichols’ 12-year-old son, who is almost 6 feet tall. He’s large for his age - a big kid,” said a federal official.
“Because of his size, it is possible that someone mistook him for an adult. It’s a possible explanation.”
The boy’s mother, Lana Padilla, said in an interview broadcast this week that Joshua told the FBI that he and his father had discussed the ingredients of a bomb made with a soda pop bottle. Padilla was interviewed by the syndicated television show “American Journal.”
Padilla, who is divorced from Nichols, is to appear before the federal grand jury in Oklahoma City investigating the bombing, government sources said.
The sources said differences exist between what she has told the FBI and what she said in her television interview.
Questioning of her son is more of a problem because of his juvenile status, which, among other things, allows him to be accompanied before the grand jury by an attorney, his mother or some other adult, the government sources explained. Adult witnesses appear without attorneys.
From a witness at the Ryder shop, food delivery man and others in Junction City, Kan., the FBI developed three sketches of John Doe 2, a man who was seen with McVeigh. The sketches depict a muscular, square-jawed man with dark, closecropped hair. He is shown in a baseball cap in two of the sketches. He is also described as having a tattoo on his left upper arm.
“This looks promising, but we’ve been down this road before,” the official said, noting that more than a dozen men have been questioned because of their strong resemblance to the composite of John Doe No. 2.
A spokesman for the boy and his mother accused federal agents of trying to pressure Nichols by spreading reports that his son may be dragged into the case.
Ron Delpit, a family friend, said that Joshua has told federal investigators he was not at the Ryder truck rental agency, and the FBI appeared to have accepted that. The boy doesn’t wear baseball caps and hasn’t ever played with fake tattoos, he said.
“They (the FBI) said he’s not a suspect, and he’s not a target,” said Delpit. The family is fully cooperating with authorities, he said.
One of the witnesses who helped provide the FBI composite was Jeff Davis, who delivered Chinese food April 15 to a Junction City hotel room where McVeigh was registered. Davis recalled handing the dinner to a large, clean-shaven young man whose voice was almost as deep as his own. He recalled seeing no tattoos.
Could that man have been 12 years old?
“I hope not,” Davis said. “Gee, that would be a little bizarre. That’s the only way I can put it. Bizarre.”
On another front, investigators have evidence that Terry Nichols was with McVeigh in Manhattan, Kan., in the two days before the April 19 bombing, an official said.
There was no indication that federal authorities believe they have enough evidence to bring charges against Nichols’ brother James, with whom McVeigh formerly lived in Michigan and who also is being held as a material witness and as a defendant in the explosives conspiracy case.
Officials continue building their case against McVeigh. They said Tuesday they have film from a nearby surveillance camera showing a figure at the wheel of the Ryder truck that resembles McVeigh, although one official questioned whether the film quality was good enough for a positive identification.
Their case against Terry Nichols includes a receipt for explosive material with McVeigh’s fingerprint on it, as well as blue barrels found on his property that appear to match pieces of blue plastic found on some bombing victims.
In the television interview, Padilla , said he had left a sealed package with her last November that included “last-will type” instructions for her and a separate letter for McVeigh.
Although Nichols, who had been visiting her and Joshua, instructed her not to open the package unless he failed to return in 60 days, she said she opened it the next day. It contained stocks, Treasury bonds and keys to a safe deposit box and storage locker, and to his car.
The locker was in Las Vegas, where Padilla operates real estate firms. Inside, Padilla said she was amazed to find thousands of dollars in gold and silver bullion, ski masks, tubular pipes and survival gear.
Sam Ventura, owner of the storage facility, AAAAB Co., said Terry Nichols had rented the facility from last November to Jan. 18. At that time, Ventura said he “vacated” the locker to rent it to someone else. He said he found none of the items Padilla described.
The tubular pipes, masks and survival gear Padilla said had been in the locker were potentially important. Authorities are looking for links between McVeigh or Nichols and a series of bank robberies in the Midwest by men wearing masks and carrying pipe bombs.
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