In the 10 years since the Oklahoma City bombing, Carl E. Lebron Jr. has agonized many times over a single, haunting question.
Could he have prevented his former co-worker -- Timothy J. McVeigh -- from blowing up the Murrah Federal Office Building and killing 168 innocent people?
Lebron wishes he had contacted police in 1994, after hearing McVeigh make angry and bizarre statements that seemed to threaten some kind of illegal action against the federal government.
"To a point, I blame myself," Lebron, 39, said in a recent interview. "I wish I could have prevented him from doing what he did. I feel like I should have known better."
Two days after the bombing of April 19, 1995, Lebron became the first Western New Yorker to contact authorities and link McVeigh to the crime. He provided helpful insights to the FBI on the Pendleton native's political views and searing hatred of the U.S. government.
A lifelong resident of Amherst, Lebron now does maintenance and stock work at a suburban department store. A religious man with an earnest face and wire-rimmed glasses, he often thinks back to the many hours he spent with a man who would become one of the world's most notorious terrorists.
For six months, starting in late 1993, the two men worked together as night-shift security guards at the Calspan research facility in Cheektowaga. Both were avid readers. Frequently, in the long, quiet hours of the night, they would kill time debating politics and other topics.
At first, Lebron was impressed with McVeigh, mainly because of his experience as a veteran of the Persian Gulf War. But as time went on, he would be shocked by McVeigh's angry rants on gun rights, the military and alleged government conspiracies. Eventually, Lebron said, McVeigh's words became so radical that he decided to use a hidden tape recorder to record his co-worker.
Lebron said McVeigh gave him anti-government books, cassette tapes and slingers, and sometimes made racist remarks. McVeigh once declared that the U.S. government was lying about the Holocaust, overstating the number of Jews killed by the Nazis. Another time, McVeigh said he suspected that the government was planning to use miniature submarines to transport drugs to the United States.
"One night (McVeigh) said, 'How easy it would be for two guys to steal guns and explosives from a military base,' " Lebron recalled. "I felt like he was trying to recruit me for something . . . That's when I decided to tape him."
In the spring of 1994, McVeigh left the private security company, heading off on an odyssey of gun shows, militia contacts and odd jobs that eventually would lead to the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil before 9/1 1.
After he left, McVeigh would occasionally write or call Lebron for updates on former co-workers, especially a woman employee whom McVeigh admired.
But McVeigh was always mysterious about his own life, Lebron said.
"The one time he called me, I asked him, 'What are you up to? Where are you?' " Lebron recalled. "He told me, 'I can't say.' "
Months after that conversation came the Oklahoma City bombing.
Lebron watched the grim television images of a building in ruins and of firefighters carting the dead and wounded from the smoking rubble. At first, he had no thought of a possible McVeigh connection. Like many Americans, he thought that the bombing had to be the work of foreign terrorists.
Then, one day after the blast, the FBI released composite drawings of two men who were possible suspects. In an instant, Lebron recognized one of them.
"That's Tim McVeigh," he thought in horror.
The next morning, Lebron drove to the Buffalo office of the FBI, taking with him a photo of McVeigh. At that point, McVeigh was being held in a jail in Perry, Okla., on traffic and gun-possession charges. Up to then, authorities had not yet tied him to the bombing.
"I told the receptionist at the FBI office that I had some information on the Oklahoma thing," Lebron said. "She looked at me like I was crazy, but they let me talk with an agent."
Lebron helped the FBI with everything he could remember about McVeigh and his political views. "(Lebron's) information helped to initiate the investigation here in Buffalo," said FBI spokesman Paul M. Moskal.
Months after McVeigh's arrest, Lebron called the FBI again. This time, he was convinced that another former security guard, who worked with him and McVeigh, was the mysterious "John Doe No. 2," alleged by some people to be McVeigh's accomplice on the day of the bombing.
But this time, the FBI discounted Lebron's information, saying they no longer believed that McVeigh had an accomplice in Oklahoma City.
"There was no John Doe No. 2," Moskal said.
"I still believe there was a John Doe No. 2, and I still believe it was the man I told them it was," Lebron said.
To this day, the bombing haunts Lebron. For years after the crime, he lost all interest in reading about politics or following the latest news developments.
"It's only in the last nine months or so that I've come to grips with it," he said.