Woman who lost grandsons in bombing retraces McVeigh's footsteps

Thursday, April 26th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Kathy Graham Wilburn has spent six years finding out as much as she can about Timothy McVeigh, the man who murdered her grandsons in the Oklahoma City bombing.

She has traveled to McVeigh's hangouts, slept in the seedy motels he frequented and faced some of the people who knew him best.

Wilburn is using her research to help a film company make a documentary, ``A Cry for Justice: The Untold Story Behind the Oklahoma City Bombing,'' that contends the attack was the work of a wider conspiracy. The documentary is due for release after McVeigh's execution on May 16.

Wilburn's search for the reason McVeigh killed 168 people _ including her grandsons, 3-year-old Chase Smith and 2-year-old Colton Smith _ has brought her many places other victims' relatives wouldn't go.

She spent a ``creepy'' night trying to sleep in the same bed McVeigh did two nights before the April 19, 1995, explosion. She visited white supremacist camps where the bomber allegedly developed his anti-government views. She had dinner with the woman who made McVeigh's fake driver's license and could have alerted authorities before he carried out the attack.

Wilburn met McVeigh's father not far from his home in Pendleton, N.Y. ``He's the forgotten victim,'' Wilburn said. ``He's a sad man.''

In Kingman, Ariz., she had dinner with the wife of Michael Fortier, McVeigh's Army buddy who is serving a 12-year prison term for failing to go to authorities after McVeigh told him of the bombing plans.

``This is probably the strangest call you're ever going to get,'' Wilburn told Lori Fortier when the woman picked up the phone at a nail salon where she worked.

When the women met at a restaurant that night, Fortier wouldn't look Wilburn in the eye.

``I realized I was in the presence of a very broken young lady,'' Wilburn said. ``I don't know why, but I put my arm around her. I said, `Honey thank you for coming. I know this is going to be an awkward evening.'''

Lori Fortier, the woman who made the fake driver's license, wouldn't talk about the bombing but apologized repeatedly that night.

``As we're leaving, she grabs onto me. She holds me close to her and she just bawls and bawls and bawls, saying, `I'm so sorry,''' Wilburn said.

Wilburn also wrote to Michael Fortier, McVeigh's accomplice Terry Nichols and McVeigh. McVeigh didn't write her back.

Wilburn, who worked for the IRS for 10 years but has not been back since the bombing, gave MGA Films of Fort Collins, Colo., access to her research and helped MGA crews gain interviews with people who were willing to talk to her because her grandsons died in the bombing. Wilburn interviews people in the documentary but is rarely shown on camera.

The documentary says McVeigh and Nichols had help from a right-wing network. It includes interviews with bombing survivors, witnesses, FBI officials and former right-wing terrorists.

MGA Films also produced a documentary on the Branch Davidian siege, ``Waco: A New Revelation,'' which promotes the theory that the government started the fire _ something investigators have steadfastly denied. The documentary was honored at film festivals in Durango, Colo., and Houston.

Wilburn believes four or five men helped McVeigh and Nichols plan and finance the bombing, even accompanying McVeigh to Oklahoma City. She thinks the plot was hatched in Elohim City, a right-wing compound in Oklahoma.

Federal authorities believe that McVeigh came to Oklahoma City alone and that they have prosecuted the only three men involved in the bombing.

``Every piece of information that was brought forth to us was thoroughly investigated,'' FBI agent Lori Bailey said. ``We certainly paid attention and went the entire route with the information.''

In the two days before the bombing, Wilburn's daughter, Edye Stowe, stayed home from work with Chase and Colton because she had strep throat. A friend called to tell her she was bringing her a birthday cake to work Wednesday, so Stowe went, dropping her kids off a few blocks away at a day-care center in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Stowe was walking across the office to blow out her birthday candles when the bomb rocked her building, where Wilburn also worked. Together they ran toward the wrecked Murrah building.

Colton died in the arms of a rescue worker. Chase had a rock in the back of his head. His uncle found the body after it had been placed in the back of a truck.

Wilburn, whose husband, Glenn, died of pancreatic cancer four years ago, said she and her husband alienated many other bombing victims' families because they ``started asking questions too soon.'' Befriending people like Bill McVeigh and Lori Fortier has not helped.

But that isn't going to stop Wilburn. ``We owed it to Chase and Colton to find the truth. They trusted us to keep them safe,'' she said.

She said she believes McVeigh deserves to die for the bombing _ ``but I'm not for killing him. I believe with him goes the truth.''