OKLAHOMA CITY - In a letter to KFOR, the family of a man who is accused of plotting to bomb a downtown Oklahoma City building says they are heartbroken by their son's actions and are questioning the FBI's tactics in the case.
Investigators were tipped off in December 2016 by a confidential source about Varnell's aspirations to bomb the Eccles Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C., "in a manner similar to the Oklahoma City Bombing", court records show.
Court documents claim that Varnell was upset with the government, and his plans got the attention of law enforcement.
A FBI informant posed as a person who could help him with the bombing.
Over the course of about seven months, the source and an explosives expert called "The Professor" met and talked with Varnell in Sayre and nearby Elk City about his plans. "The Professor" was actually an undercover FBI agent.
The undercover agent, "The Professor" and Varnell met in the afternoon on August 11 to build the bomb, scout the target, which Varnell reportedly identified as BancFirst, and rehearse the plan.
Court documents say Varnell "actively participated" in assembling what he believed to be a functioning 1,000 lb. ammonium nitrate and fuel oil "Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device" or VBIED bomb.
Built in a storage unit in El Reno and loaded into a van, all of the materials were provided by the undercover agent and inert, court documents state.
Court documents say after a final rehearsal of the route, Varnell drove the van by himself to the alley and loading dock of the BancFirst building.
Officials say that Varnell even dialed a number on a cell phone that he believed would trigger the explosion.
However, officials say that the device was actually inert and the public was not in any danger.
“There was never a concern that our community’s safety or security was at risk during this investigation,” said Kathryn Peterson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Oklahoma. “I can assure the public, without hesitation, that we had Varnell’s actions monitored every step of the way.”
Varnell is charged with attempting to use explosives to destroy a building in interstate commerce.
If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.
Family questions FBI's tactics
Varnell's family is now questioning the FBI's tactics in their son's case.
Varnell lives with his mother and step-father in Sayre, Oklahoma; a city of about 4,300 people a two-hour drive west from Oklahoma City on I-40.
Although the family declined to talk with NewsChannel 4 on camera, the family sent a statement to KFOR about their son's arrest.
In the statement, the family said Varnell is a paranoid schizophrenic and was "aided and abetted" by the FBI.
Read the family's full statement to KFOR below:
"We as a family are extremely distraught about this situation with our son Jerry Drake Varnell, but what the public must understand is that he is a paranoid schizophrenic and is extremely susceptible to different types of ideology that normal people would deem immoral. Underneath his condition, he is a sweet-hearted person and we are extremely shocked that this event has happened. However, what truly has us flabbergasted is the fact that the FBI knew he was schizophrenic. The State of Oklahoma found him mentally incompetent and we, his parents have legal guardianship over him by the Court. These documents are sealed from the public, which is why no news media outlet has been able to obtain them. The FBI clearly knew that he was schizophrenic because they have gathered every ounce of information on him. Reading the criminal complaint against him has brought us great pause due to the numerous lies from the informant. We do not have an underground bunker! We built our home a few years ago and bought a storage container, as we use it for a storm shelter. We only recently pushed dirt up around it to make it safe. The building is used for storage and is NOT a bunker full of food and supplies, in fact the doors close from the outside. It has neither electricity nor anything that would make it habitable.
What the public should be looking at is the fact that the FBI gave our son the means to make this happen. He has no job, no money, no vehicle, and no driver’s license, due to the fact that he is schizophrenic and we; his parents do everything we can possible to keep him safe and functional. The mental health system has consistently failed us due to the lack of establishments and health care coverage for a person like him. He has attended college and just enrolled in welding school. His medications allow him to be somewhat functional but he will never be completely functional in life. His brain does not work like a normal person and never will due to the nature of his mental illness. He has suffered through countless serious full-blown schizophrenic delusional episodes and he has been put in numerous mental hospitals since he was 16 years old. The FBI came and picked him up from our home, they gave him a vehicle, gave him a fake bomb, and every means to make this happen none of which he had access to on his own. We know who their informant is and what the public should know is that he is that a drug-dealing criminal. On June 15, 2017, Jerry’s Father told the criminal informant “that he was not allowed back on our property and if he returned we would have him arrested for trespassing and drugs”. Apparently, he continued to sneak onto our residence. The FBI paid him to continue this operation and I believe they have cleared his criminal record.
The FBI should have filed conspiracy on our son and had him committed to a mental institution. They should not have aided and abetted a paranoid schizophrenic to commit this act. There are many more facts that I will not make public that will support my son and the disturbing acts made by the FBI.
I realize that many will say my son could have found another person to commit this act. Yet, any person that has access to the materials and the state of mind necessary to bomb a building would not have any need for a schizophrenic who has no resources to contribute. Schizophrenics always have conspiracy theories and feels everyone is out to get them. They trust no one and there is no doubt in my mind that this informant began this hate against the government and my son followed along because others easily influence him. There is no person in his life that has even heard anything about hatred for the government and we have all been shocked by the event.
We ask all news media outlets to please respect our privacy. Do not fly helicopters over our home and stalk us at our gates for a story, we are trying our very best to comfort each other because this is a devastating loss for our family. We do not need to be bombarded by reporters who only want to omit important facts of this event. We understand the public wants to know how this could possibly happen. We simply ask them to look at the facts of the case and ask why the FBI made this happen. He is our son and he is a brother and loved one no matter what he has done. We have unconditional love for him, we are heartbroken by this event and wish we had been made aware by the FBI, and we would have committed him into a mental institution for help.
Clifford and Melonie Varnell