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On forgiving McVeigh

By Bud Welch / June 11, 2001


I'm the third of eight children and grew up on a dairy farm, and I've run a service station in Oklahoma City for the last 34 years. Until April 19, 1995 - the day my daughter Julie and 167 others were killed in the bomb blast that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Building - my life was very simple. I had a little girl and loved her a lot.

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Julie had a rough start; she was born premature, but she survived and grew healthy and strong. She had just graduated from Marquette University with a degree in Spanish and started a job as a translator for the Social Security Administration. At the time of her death, she was dating an Air Force lieutenant named Eric. The day after Julie was killed, I found out that they had decided to announce their engagement in two weeks.

All my life I have opposed the death penalty. Friends used to tell me that if anyone ever killed one of my family members, I would change. "What if Julie got raped and murdered?" But I always said I'd stick to my guns. Until April 19.

The first four or five weeks after the bombing I had so much anger, pain, hatred, and revenge that I realized why, when someone is charged with a violent crime, they transport him in a bullet-proof vest. It's because people like me would try to kill him.

By the end of 1995 I was in such bad shape, I was drinking heavily and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. I was stuck on April 19. But I knew I had to do something about it.

That's when I went down to the bombing site.

It was a cold January afternoon, and I stood there watching hundreds of people walking along the chain link fence that surrounded the lot where the Murrah Building had stood. I was thinking about the death penalty, and how I wanted nothing more than to see Timothy McVeigh (and anyone else responsible for the bombing) fried. But I was also beginning to wonder whether I would really feel any better once they were executed. Every time I asked myself that question, I got the same answer: No. Nothing positive would come from it. It wouldn't bring Julie back. After all, it was hatred and revenge that made me want to see them dead, and those two things were the very reason that Julie and 167 others were dead.

Once I arrived at this realization, I returned to my original belief that executing criminals is wrong. Since then I have become a leading opponent of the death penalty, constantly flying from one city to the next, telling people about my daughter and why the death penalty is wrong. The speaking and traveling keep me busy, but they don't bring me much peace. Nothing like going to visit Timothy McVeigh's father.

Bill McVeigh is as much a victim as I am, if not more. I can't imagine the pain he and his family have been through. I've lost a daughter, and he's going to lose a son. I have a son myself, and if he was convicted of killing 168 people, I don't know how I'd deal with that. Bill has to live with that for the rest of his life.

I first saw Bill McVeigh on television a few weeks after the bombing. He was working in his flower bed, and he looked up at the camera for a couple seconds. When he did, I saw a father with deep, deep pain in his eyes. I could recognize it, because I was living that pain. I knew right then that someday I had to go tell him that I truly cared how he felt.