(Ken Silva, Headline USA) Josh Nichols, who the FBI once baselessly accused of being involved in the Oklahoma City bombing as a 12-year-old, is headed back to prison after a life of hardship.
The troubled son of imprisoned OKC bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols pleaded guilty earlier this month in Las Vegas to kidnapping and armed robbery in a case that will get him at least five years in a Nevada prison.
Nichols’ downward spiral has been well documented ever since his father was arrested for being involved in an attack that killed at least 168 people, including 19 children.
The FBI played a large part in making a 12-year-old’s already shattered life even harder.
In the days following the April 19, 1995, attack, the young Nichols was cooperative with the FBI when questioned about his father.
But then, the FBI baselessly accused the boy of being “John Doe 2”—the mysterious suspect seen by more than 20 people on the morning of the attack. Terry Nichols, who helped assemble McVeigh’s bomb, was excluded as John Doe 2 because he was in Kansas on April 19, but the feds suspected for a while that his son may have been with McVeigh.
The Dallas Morning News reported on May 10, 1995, that officials “have no evidence that the boy, Joshua Nichols, had knowledge of the terrorist attack, only that he might have accompanied Timothy McVeigh when he rented the truck believed used in the blast.”
Legendary investigator Roger Charles noted that the FBI’s suspicions of Nichols were completely unfounded.
“Josh was not tied in any way to the acquisition of materials, and he had a rock-solid alibi for April 19,” Charles wrote in Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed and Why it Matters.
Charles detailed the harassment Nichols received by the FBI, which was likely using the boy to pressure Terry Nichols to cooperate.
“The FBI asked [Josh’s mother] to repack the bag Josh had taken to Kansas for his Easter trip, so the clothes could be tested for bomb-making residue. She did so, and they were clean. A few days later, the FBI asked her for every baseball cap in Josh’s collection so they could be compared to witness sightings of the cap worn by John Doe 2. Again, she complied.”
The FBI’s fool’s errand diverted crucial time and resources away from catching the true John Doe 2, who to this day remains at large, Charles noted.
“For about eight days, the FBI allowed the circus surrounding Josh to bring the hunt for John Doe 2 to a complete standstill. According to the Secret Service, up to 150 new leads were held back from investigative field office around the country. When it finally became clear, on May 11, that no joy was to be had from Josh, they were sent out again.”
Along with helping to tank its own investigation, critics say the FBI’s baseless harassment of Nichols contributed to the boy’s teenage turn to drugs and alcohol—a tragedy documented by Kathy Wilburn-Sanders, who lost her two grandsons in the bombing.
Wilburn-Sanders was on her own quest to solve unanswered questions about the bombing in the years after 1995. In an amazing act of forgiveness, she became pen pals with Terry Nichols and met his son in 1999.
“I couldn’t imagine a 12-year-old boy under interrogation by the FBI … How much stress could one child endure?” Wilburn-Sanders wrote in her memoirs, Now You See Me: How I Forgave the Unforgivable.
Wilburn-Sanders noted that Nichols was mercilessly bullied by his classmates over the matter.
“Josh had often been bullied by public school classmates and adults, people who attacked in groups that left him crying and bleeding in the streets,” she wrote.
Wilburn-Sanders attempted to provide support to the boy, telling him she had forgiven his father and suggesting he should too.
“He responded as most teenagers respond to words of guidance—with silence,” she wrote.
Unfortunately, Wilburn-Sanders’ efforts were unsuccessful. Nichols was charged in 2006 with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, resisting an officer, battery of an officer, and possession of a stolen vehicle.
Nichols, then 23, was sentenced to 19 to 48 months imprisonment—a sentence reduced thanks to a passionate letter from Terry Nichols pleading for leniency.
Nichols eventually left prison in 2012. His latest charges stem from a February 2020 attack on a man in Las Vegas.
Nichols, now 40, could end up serving more than 17 years in prison, according to his written plea agreement. Terry Nichols, 65, is serving multiple lifetime federal prison sentences without the possibility of parole.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.