An Exploded Life

When the Dust Settled Over Oklahoma City, Kathy Wilburn Had Lost Two Grandkids and Gained an Obsession: Finding the Truth

September 1997, Denver
At Nichols's trial, Kathy didn't feel welcome around the other victims' families, because she and her husband Glenn had gone against the government's theory. Instead, she began to eat with Nichols's mother and sister. "Joyce is just a good ol' farm gal and Susie's just a good ol' country girl. I can't help but love both of them. They talked about me a lot to Terry, and one day I came into the court room and I was sitting there with Joyce and Susie, and Terry's eyes met mine." She mouthed hello to him.

"Every day after that when he came into that courtroom he would make it a point to look at me and nod hello. So we started this strange relationship. I said to Susie that if Terry wants us to save his butt he'd better take the witness stand because he's got some explaining to do. And she told Terry that. She came back and told me, 'Terry said his lawyers don't want him to take the witness stand, but if you will write your questions down, that he will answer them and I will bring you his letter.'

"I looked at Susie and I said, 'Susie, don't ever have Terry write anything down.' Oh, God, can you believe I did that?"

Terry began writing to Kathy, even sending a valentine stuck together with toothpaste. He has written her more than 100 letters, one every two weeks. On March 16, 2000, he wrote: "THIS IS REALLY THE FIRST TIME THAT I'VE SPOKEN OR WRITTEN ABOUT TIM IN ANY SUBSTANCE TO ANYONE EXCEPT MY LAWYERS. I AM NOT WRITING THIS LETTER TO YOU IN ANY REGARDS TO JUDGE, CONDEMN, ACCUSE, NOR BLAME TIM IN ANY WAY FOR ANYTHING, FOR I BELIEVE THAT'S GOD'S DOMAIN."

April 15, 1999, Arizona
Kathy headed out to Kingman, looking for Lori Fortier, whose husband, Michael, drew a 12-year sentence after he testified against both McVeigh and Nichols. As part of the plea bargain, she was given immunity. Kathy knew Lori was working in the back of a hair salon doing fingernails. She walked in, but couldn't pick out Fortier. Back outside, she called up on her cell phone asking for Lori. She waited a moment and then a voice came on the line:

"This is Lori."

"Lori, this is probably the strangest call you're ever going to get. But my name is Kathy Wilburn and I lost both my grandchildren in the Oklahoma City bombing and I'd like to take you to dinner tonight. There's a long pause, and she goes, 'Oh, my God.' "

The two women agreed to meet at a restaurant for supper. "I finally found this girl sitting over on the bench by the wall, and I walked over to her and I said, 'Lori?' And the girl gets to her feet, never looking up, her head hung down, looking at the floor, and says, 'Yes, ma'am.' I had never planned what I was going to do or what I was going to say. She couldn't look at me. And so, as a natural reflex, I put my arm around her and said, 'I know this is going to be an awkward evening.' We go to sit down and I ask her if she would be willing to do an interview for the documentary. She says, 'I would hurt too many people, ma'am. My lawyers told me I can't talk about the bombing.'

" 'That's fine. If you can't talk about the bombing, let me tell you how it affected my life. We're having an office birthday party. Edye's walking across the floor to blow out the candles on her birthday cake when the bomb went off.' I told her about running up the three blocks to the Murrah building and how the glass was falling all around us and I thought we would be killed. 'There's a boom, boom, boom, and clouds of black smoke, and it's the cars in the parking lot blowing up. We went around to the north side of the building and it's just a pancake of rubble. Edye crumples to her knees and begins to cry, "My babies, my babies." '

"By this time, Lori is crying. I pull out this picture of Chase and Colton on this little card I have. And I gave this to Lori.

"She was a broken, sorry individual. I find out about her. She has two kids, picked on at school because they know who their parents are. She's not welcome at the PTA. She drives several hundred miles every month to take her children to visit their daddy. And I realized Lori had some cross to bear. At the end of our meeting, she hugged me tightly and I walk her out to the car and she is just crying profusely, 'Please, please, will you write to my husband?'

"I went back to my room and I thought, OK. I'll write to him. If I see someone and you can show that you are sorry or remorseful, then it's much easier for me to forgive you. I wrote to Michael. I told him I was working on a documentary and that the government didn't tell the full story. He writes to me, 'I am troubled by your statement that you no longer have faith in our federal government. I find it troubling that the federal government would deceive you in this matter and I also find it hard to believe.' "

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