- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A twisted scrap of metal that was once the rear axle housing of a Ryder rental truck is a reminder of the deadly truck bomb that ripped open the Oklahoma City federal building almost 13 years ago.

Visitors who examine the axle housing and other parts of the truck on display at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum are seeing evidence that provided FBI agents with clues to the identity of the people responsible for the bombing that killed 168 people.

Clearly stamped on the mangled 250-pound axle housing, found more than a block from the devastated building, is the truck’s vehicle identification number, the crucial discovery that led agents to a Ryder truck-rental agency in Kansas and then to a description of the man who rented it, later identified as Timothy McVeigh.

“That was what kicked off the investigation at a very early point,” said former U.S. Attorney Patrick M. Ryan, part of the team of federal prosecutors at the trials of McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols. “It all relates to that VIN number.”

The exhibit, “Behind the Scene: The OK Bomb Investigation,” takes visitors along the trail of evidence collected after the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Thanks to public interest in such television police dramas as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the exhibit is one of the most popular in the museum, said Nancy Coggins, marketing and communications director.

“It helps people get the whole story,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to see a real investigation.”

Investigators recovered almost 200 widely scattered pieces of the Ford F-700 series truck that carried the 4,000-pound ammonium-nitrate-and-fuel-oil bomb — from heavy steel fragments of the chassis to items as small as part of the hood emblem.

Within the same glass enclosure as the axle housing is a fragment of fiberglass-reinforced plywood from the truck. FBI chemists found ammonium nitrate particles embedded in the wood, helping to confirm the components of the bomb.

The government presented the evidence to the museum after the trials of McVeigh and Nichols. McVeigh was convicted in the deaths of eight federal law-enforcement agents in the bombing and was executed in 2001. Nichols is serving multiple life prison sentences on federal and state bombing convictions.

After the bombing, FBI agents searched for blocks in all directions, picking through piles of rubble and debris in search of clues. Some truck fragments were found on roofs and inside nearby buildings.

The 7-foot-long axle housing was “one of the most important pieces of the investigation,” said retired FBI agent Bill Teater, who participated in the search for evidence. “It was absolutely essential.”

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