A biochemist and gun enthusiast sought in connection with last month’s Oklahoma City bombing was arrested Friday in Arizona by U.S. marshals. He was held on federal weapons charges unrelated to the bombing.
Steven Garrett Colbern, a UCLA graduate and reputed survivalist, was seized by federal agents who converged on the small tourist town of Oatman, Ariz. Witnesses said Colbern tried to pull out a handgun as marshals struggled with him in the street but he was quickly subdued.
The agents had been searching for Colbern, 35, for at least a week as possibly the pickuptruck driver seen traveling in tandem with Timothy McVeigh the day of the disaster. McVeigh has been charged in the bombing.
Federal officials said he could be the elusive John Doe No. 2, target of a nationwide manhunt since the April 19 bombing that left 168 dead and more than 400 injured at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
“Among many leads we got for John Doe No. 2, he is one of them,” said a federal law enforcement official in Washington.
The manhunt has focused on several other people, none of whom turned out to have any connection to the bombing. Federal officials cited several reports and evidence that may link Colbern to the crime.
One official told The Associated Press that Colbern was believed to drive a brown pickup truck that was recently spotted with a bag of ammonium nitrate fertilizer in the bed. That kind of fertilizer was used in making the Oklahoma City bomb.
In addition, officials said a witness told investigators that a brown pickup appeared to be traveling with McVeigh’s car when it was pulled over in Oklahoma the day of the bombing. As a state trooper arrested McVeigh, the pickup pulled to the side of the road, waited for a short time and then moved on, according to the witness.
Colbern reportedly lived several years ago in his family’s mobile home in Bullhead City, Ariz., about 30 miles from where McVeigh lived in Kingman, Ariz. Neighbors said a brown-and-beige pickup truck was parked outside the mobile home there Friday.
Officials were investigating reports that Colbern and McVeigh had shared a mailbox in Kingman.
A federal official said McVeigh sought to contact Colbern in Arizona last fall, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday. The paper quoted officials as saying Colbern held extreme right-wing views, was a firearms enthusiast and had the “mindset” for violent acts against the government.
U.S. marshals arrested Colbern in Oatman after residents pointed him out as matching the wanted posters that authorities had been circulating in the tiny town.
Thomas Nixon, a chief deputy U.S. marshal, said that deputy marshals were asking questions about Colbern in the Oatman post office when someone pointed him out, sitting on a bench across the street.
As the agents approached, Nixon said, Colbern arose and started to walk away. As they tried to talk with him, he began to run. There was a struggle, Nixon said, and Colbern reached for a .38-caliber weapon in his jeans but did not manage to pull it out. In the struggle, one deputy was slightly injured.
Colbern reportedly had been living and working in Oatman for several months. Trained as a chemist, Colbern had been working as a part-time dishwasher, said the owner of the Oatman Mining Co. restaurant, who refused to give his name. He described Colbern as quiet but intelligent.
“I never knew anything about his political beliefs, but he was known to wear a gun,” said the restaurant owner.
Federal agents on Thursday searched the home of Colbern’s parents in Oxnard, Calif., according to Robert Colbern, the suspect’s father.
“They didn’t find anything,” said the elder Colbern, a 60-year-old dentist.
Colbern, 35, was a 1989 graduate of UCLA and had been working as a biochemist at a research institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles until last fall. He was born in Illinois, according to the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
He had been arrested last August by police in Upland, Calif., and charged with carrying a loaded firearm and possessing unregistered weapons, including a silencer and an illegal assault weapon, according to a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office. He also was charged with battery against a peace officer, she said.
In October, a fugitive warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to appear for trial on the charges.
“He thought they weren’t going to give him a fair trial. He was scared to death,” said Colbern’s mother, who answered the phone at the Oxnard home Friday. “I’m worried about him.”
Colbern’s parents told reporters their son had been distraught after a 1991 divorce.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Death toll rises John Youngblood, 52, wounded in the April 19 bombing died in a Oklahoma City hospital Friday, raising the death toll to 168.