Fortier's parents living a nightmare

Monday, November 29th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

KINGMAN, Ariz. (AP) -- Hundreds of lives were touched by a poor decision made by one man. Michael Fortier chose not to tell what he knew about Timothy McVeigh's plot and the conspiracy to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 in which 168 people died and hundreds were injured. Michael's parents have lived with that thought everyday since then.

"It gives me guilt, you know, because I put him in this world," Michael's mother Irene Fortier told the Dallas Morning News. "It makes me feel like it's my fault that all these people are dead and there's all this destruction. You still ask why. Why didn't he say something? Somebody tell me why he didn't say something." Paul and Irene Fortier have endured sleepless nights and contemplated suicide. The Fortiers, who have been married 38 years, have pored over the years leading up to the bombing wondering what they could have done better, differently with their youngest offive.

Michael Fortier was the government's primary witness in the trials of Timothy McVeigh and convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols. He pleaded guilty to knowing of the plot and failing to alert authorities, selling stolen guns and lying to the FBI. For his testimony, he received a sentence of 12 years in prison. The Fortiers spoke to the newspaper of their love for their son and their bewilderment at his past drug use and anti-government feelings. They talked of their fears for his future and his children and their pain for the victims and survivors of Oklahoma City.

Mrs. Fortier wrote a letter to McVeigh in prison. In it, she asked the convicted bomber to explain to the people of Oklahoma what went through his head. McVeigh wrote back to Mrs. Fortier, thanking her for her letter and writing that he is working on her suggestion. "I told him that he needs to explain. People need to know," she said. "You can't just do something like that and not say you're sorry or at least say something." In the 55 months since the bombing, Mr. Fortier said he and his wife have gotten old. He said 55 months have seemed like 55 years. In the day s after the bombing, they watched the devastating images on television, and were shaken when they saw McVeigh led out of the Noble County Courthouse in Perry, Okla. handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit. McVeigh was a man who had eaten Thanksgiving dinner with the family. He attended family birthday parties and went boating with them. And he served as best man at Michael's wedding to Lori.

It was only a couple of days after the bombing when the FBI contacted the Fortiers. They wondered about Michael's relationship with McVeigh. So do they. "Somehow, Tim, after the incident at Waco, you came to Kingman to find Michael," wrote Mrs. Fortier in an as yet unmailed letter. "I have asked myself this question so many times, why Michael? Was he a person who was easily influenced, a vulnerable guy you had known in the service. Out of all the people you had met, why Michael?"

In one of the darker moments in the months after the bombing, Mr. Fortier went out into the garage and sat in his car, planning to start the engine and die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Mrs. Fortier found him. "That's when I knew it was time to get some help," she said. Since then the couple has fought off the dark thoughts and tears with prayers and therapy. Mrs. Fortier coped by turning to prayer. She said she has prayed more in the last four years than she's prayed in her whole life. The couple moved four times around Kingman within the year after the bombing. They thought about leaving the area of 13,000 people, but decided there was no reason to do that, since they had done nothing wrong. And they continued to work at their jobs, Paul as a forklift driver and Irene as a factory worker. But they say everywhere they go, they're treated like pariahs.

Mrs. Fortier relates a story of making an appointment with her company's counselor, hoping therapy would help her cope. "The first thing that man says to me, he looks at my name and says, 'Fortier? Are you related to the famous Fortier? Or should I say the infamous Fortier?' " The Fortiers says their true friends have stuck by them and their family continues to be strong. They are concerned about their son's life after prison, and have thought about the possibility that he might enter the federal witness protection program after his release. But what they'd really like to do is talk to their son and have him tell them the whole story from the beginning. "We want to know everything," said Mrs. Fortier. "We have aright to know."