Army Town Emerging as Staging Area for Bomb Attack
JUNCTION CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The bombing suspects were spotted here, individually and together, and they stayed in motels here days before the attack.
It was in Junction City that the truck believed to have carried the bomb was rented. And one suspect was nabbed speeding along a road leading back to this Army town set in the rolling Kansas prairie.
One week after the bombing that shattered the Oklahoma City federal building, Junction City is emerging as the likely staging area for the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Timothy McVeigh, 27, is the only person charged so far with the bombing that killed scores of people. The other suspect, identified in police sketches as ``John Doe 2,″ remained at large as a hotel manager placed him here in the days before the attack.
Junction City, home of the U.S Army’s 1st Infantry Division _ the famous Big Red One _ also is the place where McVeigh met Terry Nichols, one of two Michigan brothers held for questioning in the attack. The brothers face unrelated federal explosives charges.
Nichols and McVeigh served in the same company. Since leaving the Army, they have orbited this typical GI town, which has its share of strip joints, Chinese restaurants, pawn shops and cheap motels.
Nichols moved between here and Michigan, working as a ranch hand nearby for seven months. McVeigh drifted in and out of town between stops in Arizona and Michigan.
Federal investigators have swarmed over the area since late last week, when pieces of the truck believed to have been used in the bombing were traced to a Junction City Ryder rental agency on Interstate 70, Kansas’s east-west artery that connects to highways leading south to Oklahoma City.
McVeigh was spotted here in the days preceding the bombing. He has been identified as the man who spent four nights at the Dreamland Motel, a one-story building two exits from the truck rental agency.
The motel owner, Lea McGown, said McVeigh stayed there from April 14 until April 18, one day before the bombing. She said he arrived in a car, but a few days later parked a Ryder truck in the motel’s lot.
``He was a nice, friendly young man,″ she said. ``There was nothing negative to his behavior.″
``John Doe 2″ is now believed to have stayed at the Great Western Inn, a two-story motel an exit away from the Dreamland Motel.
The Great Western manager, who would not give his name, said a man fitting the suspect’s description checked in about 8:30 p.m. on April 17.
He was driving a yellow Ryder truck.
The manager described the man as 5-foot-11, 190 pounds with long dark hair and a foreign accent. ``He was not 100 percent American,″ the manager said.
The manager said the man, who paid for the $26.90 room in travelers’ checks, was nervous and sullen.
``I asked him where he was from. He just said `Colorado.′ He kept his eyes on the registration card and wouldn’t look at me,″ said the manager. ``He looked scared.″
The man left early the morning of April 18 _ the same time McVeigh checked out of his motel.
The manager also said motel records, now held by the FBI, show a James Nichols registered at the motel on April 7. James and Terry Nichols were charged Tuesday in Michigan with conspiring to violate federal weapons statutes. The charges are not related to the Oklahoma bombing.
Witnesses have placed McVeigh at a gasoline and convenience store near the Ryder rental agency. A second man was seen with him as they bought gasoline in a five-gallon plastic container.
Hours after the bombing, McVeigh was arrested on Interstate 35, 63 miles north of the crime scene, by a state trooper who stopped him for driving without a license plate and carrying a loaded handgun. He was jailed in Perry, Okla., and was hours away from making bail when authorities figured out who he was.
I-35 connects to the roads leading into Junction City.
The trail has also led to Herington, Kan., a railroad junction and bedroom community of 2,600 people 35 miles south of Junction City, where Terry Nichols lived since late February.
Herington lies on Route 77, a north-south road that leads to Interstate 35 and into Oklahoma City.
In the garage-workshop of Nichols’ tiny two-bedroom home, investigators found blue plastic barrels similar to the ones investigators believe contained the homemade ammonia nitrate bomb that destroyed the Oklahoma City building. Shards of blue plastic were found imbedded in the ruined building.
But Herington Police Chief Dale Kuhn said such barrels are common in farm areas, and are often used to transport several kinds of agricultural chemicals. Investigators have not said what materials have been detected in the barrels taken from Terry Nichols’ home.
Georgia Rucker, the Herington real estate agent who sold the home to Nichols, said he told her he bought and sold military surplus.
``He told me he owned land and a big home in Michigan,″ Rucker said. ``I wondered why he would set up shop in such a small place in Herington. He told me he liked Herington because it was centrally located.″