OKLAHOMA CITY-Early morning. The guys at the dealership are still wiping the sleep from their eyes, dawdling over the first cups of coffee and small talk about the night before as customers slowly begin to spill in. In the maze of one-way streets that are Oklahoma City, a crew-cut-looking guy driving a yellow Ryder truck pulls up. Confused, he asks for directions to Fifth and Harvey streets.
Easy-one block over and five blocks down. Can't miss it. The big federal building is right there.
Mike Moroz doesn't give it a second thought. Just another lost motorist. One of maybe 10 a day who stop at Johnny's Tire Co., asking how to thread their way through the downtown labyrinth.
He offers his verbal map, then meanders back to work.
Some 30 minutes later comes the incredible concussion. The dealership's windows are blown out, the ceiling collapses.
It's April 19, and the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building a few blocks away has just exploded-reduced to a mass of twisted steel, rubble, and broken lives.
Not until later the next day, when sketches of possible bombing suspects start circulating, does Mike Moroz begin to realize he may have unwittingly stumbled into one of the largest manhunts in U.S. history.
``McVeigh just pulled up and asked for directions,'' Mr. Moroz recalled. ``He proceeded down that way, toward the federal building. Thirty minutes later, the bomb went off.''
Timothy J. McVeigh and alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols have been indicted in the Oklahoma City bombing, which left at least 168 people-including 15 children-dead and hundreds injured.
The suspects, who pleaded not guilty Aug. 15 before a federal magistrate, were charged with carrying out the nation's worst terrorist assault ever, blowing up the federal building with a rented Ryder truck loaded with 4,800 pounds of homemade explosives.
Thinking back, 25-year-old Mr. Moroz, who's worked at Johnny's Tire only eight months, remembers Mr. McVeigh did not seem nervous or preoccupied. ``Not at all. He seemed like he had nothing on his mind, to be honest with you.''
Mr. Moroz describes himself as an ``everyday Joe-I do a little bit of everything here,'' including sales, vehicle inspections, even mechanical work at the dealership, which primarily handles Kumho and Uniroyal tires.
He said he didn't really pay attention to the chance encounter with the alleged bomber. ``That sounds kind of bad, doesn't it? But at the time it was early in the morning and we were just getting our coffee down. . . . And it's not uncommon at all for people to stop here and ask directions.''
Moments after the incredibly forceful blast, Mr. Moroz' first thoughts were that a car in one of the dealership's bays had blown up. Until he stepped outside to see the surrounding destruction.
The next day, ``after everything went down, some reports came out that a Ryder truck had been spotted, and it might have been the vehicle used in the bombing. The gentleman I'd seen kind of resembled the sketch that was being circulated, and he was in a Ryder, and the time of day-it all kind of fell into place after that.''
Recognizing the similarity to the person in the sketch, Mr. Moroz called the FBI.
Though he has not yet been called before a federal grand jury investigating the crime, he said he believes he'll eventually be called to testify at the suspects' trial.
While business-wise, things have returned to normal in the city, he's not sure the emotional scars will ever quite heal.
``I had a woman customer who said she was actually in the building when it blew up. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (office there) lost about six people who were our customers. . . .''
Asked what fate should befall the suspects if judged guilty, Mr. Moroz answers quickly: ``I think they deserve to get killed. I mean, they killed 168 people here with no remorse, in my opinion. They knew exactly what they were doing. You blow up a building you know people are in, and you're going to kill people.
``I think they should die for this,'' he said, but finds it ``hard to imagine what you could do to these people'' to even the score.
``. . . A grandfather who comes to our shop lost his two grandchildren. You want to see pain in somebody's eyes? That's the gentleman you need to look at. He'll show you what it's like.''
Alongside pictures on a wall in Johnny's Tire illustrating the damage the dealership sustained from the blast is a photo of the grieving man's grandchildren.
``When you think about the building-that can be replaced,'' Mr. Moroz said. ``But those two kids can't.''
From the profound sadness of that statement, he nervously yet excitedly mentioned that his wife is pregnant-``due any minute. She's getting ready to have our little girl,'' their first child, he said proudly. ``Could be happening right now and I don't even know it, that's how close she is.''
The irony of discussing new life amid talk of so much death silences him for a moment.
Does he harbor any guilty feelings about directing the alleged bomber to his target?
``None at all. Not even a little bit,'' Mr. Moroz said resolutely.
``That was just too unforseen. Giving directions-it's something that just happens every day.
``Maybe, if this was Bosnia or something. But this is Oklahoma City. (Bombings) don't happen here very often.''