10 years later, some seek more answers in bombing

Oklahoma City survivors, victims' relatives question investigation's conclusions

April 19, 2005|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

OKLAHOMA CITY - There will be 168 seconds of silence here this morning, one moment for each person killed in the federal building bombing 10 years ago today. A candlelight vigil was held Sunday, and a marathon, the Run to Remember, is planned for next weekend.

Then there is this: a "Day of Truth" rally and speakers forum today and tomorrow, intended to give public airing to the persistent belief among some that the bombing was part of a wider plot, involving other conspirators never caught or brought to justice.

For the government and much of the country, the case of the Oklahoma City bombing ended with the arrest, conviction and execution of Timothy J. McVeigh, an angry ex-soldier with extreme anti-government views, and the life sentences handed down to his accomplice, Terry Nichols.

The prosecutors and government agents who worked the case and won convictions against those two men do not dignify the alternate theories and conspiracy plots with responses. The case is solved and closed, they say. What remains is the slow and difficult healing of a community, displayed at this week's anniversary events with wreaths of flowers and a reunion luncheon today for rescue workers and families of victims.

But three lengthy trials and 10 years have not quieted the lingering questions of some survivors and intrigued observers. They still are searching for the shadowy suspect John Doe No. 2 and gathering evidence they say could link McVeigh to Iraqi agents or a band of white supremacist bank robbers.

"Some people have said we're obsessed with it. Maybe we are," said Charles Key, a former Oklahoma state legislator who is helping organize the Day of Truth events. "I've said everything I can say about it for 10 years now. I think it's important. There's a lot of people who lost their lives that day, and it would be terrible to remember the deaths of all those people with a lie."

Throughout history, from the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy, far-reaching theories have been ascribed to horrible events that appear too vast and too wicked to be the work of one lone, troubled individual.

So it is with the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City, where perceived gaps in the official investigation and pure grief have fueled questions for a decade about whether McVeigh really could have carried out alone what still stands as the single worst act of domestic terror in the United States.

"It was such a gash to the conscience," said Mark S. Hamm, a criminology professor at Indiana State University who has studied the bombing and competing theories of how it happened. "You just think: This could not have been done. And then the pictures of McVeigh come out, and he looks like the all-American, the kid next door, and you say, "How could this one guy have done this?"

Hamm began studying the Oklahoma City case within weeks of the bombing. In a book he wrote two years later, he generally reached the same conclusion as the FBI about the crime - that McVeigh was a "lone wolf" who acted without the help of others. But later, as he studied a group of prolific Midwest bank robbers known as the Aryan Republican Army, Hamm said he reached an alternate theory linking McVeigh to that operation.

In his research, Hamm discovered four instances between 1993 and April 1995 when McVeigh and members of the Aryan Republican Army were in the same small, often obscure, towns on the same days. He thinks McVeigh helped carry out the bank heists, and the crime ring helped plot the federal building bombing - possibly in retaliation for the execution on the same day as the bombing of Richard Wayne Snell, a leader in the white supremacist movement.

It is one of many theories, Hamm acknowledges, and none of them may ever be proved true or entirely debunked. But he and others say it is unfair and naive to dismiss alternate explanations for the Oklahoma City bombing.

"I'm not the lone ranger - there's a lot of people out there who still have a lot of questions," Hamm said. "I don't know how it's resolved. I think maybe it goes down with all the others, with the Kennedy assassination and the sightings in Roswell, N.M. It gets dumped in the category of Elvis sightings and all those things, which is unfortunate."

V.Z. Lawton says he was raised by his parents to trust the government. For about a decade, he was the government, working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an eighth-floor office in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building.

Lawton was at his desk the morning of the bombing, and he still remembers "as clear as can be," the building beginning to shake - before the blast went off, he says - then being struck on the head by something. When he stood up, half the building was torn away and the roof above him was gone.

Almost from that first day, Lawton says, he has been haunted by the feeling that official answers never fully explained the bombing.

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