For nearly a year after his daughter Julie Welch and 167 others were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, Bud Welch wanted nothing more than to see Timothy McVeigh executed.
But then Welch spent the next five years doing everything in his power to save McVeigh from death by lethal injection.
Welch was the featured speaker at an Aug. 9 rally on Fountain Square protesting the death penalty, specifically the execution of convicted murderer John Byrd Jr. Several other prominent abolitionists, including Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk and former U.S. Rep. Tom Luken, spoke before a rain-soaked group of 60 supporters.
Welch travels around the world, speaking out in opposition to the death penalty, while serving on the board of directors of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation -- an organization that seeks to abolish the death penalty -- and also the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.
Several local radio stations also featured Welch before his speech last week.
"I had always opposed the death penalty," he says. "I didn't really know quite why I did."
Welch said supporters of the death penalty had always argued his opinion would quickly change if a relative were to be murdered. The critics were correct, at least partially.
"I didn't even want trials for them (McVeigh and co-defendant Terry Nichols)," Welch says.
"I wanted them fried."
Welch recalls the anger that overwhelmed him for 10 months after the bombing, a period he now refers to as a time of "temporary insanity." Overcome with grief, he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and routinely drank himself to sleep. He visited the site of the bombing daily.
On a cold day in January 1996, Welch experienced a revelation and a turning point in his life. Severely hung-over from his habitual alcohol abuse, he asked himself what he needed to move forward and recover from his profound loss. After much introspection, Welch realized that neither substance abuse nor revenge were healthy coping mechanisms in overcoming the loss of his daughter. Neither would bring Julie back.
Indeed Welch recognized the similarity between what he was feeling and what had motivated McVeigh and Nichols.
"The reason Julie and 167 others were dead was rage and revenge," he said.
McVeigh had carried out the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building on the two-year anniversary of the federal government's raid of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. The purpose of the bombing was to exact some degree of retribution for what McVeigh thought were abuses of power by the federal government. That understanding helped Welch return to the position he had held before his daughter's death: Capital punishment is wrong.
"Rage and revenge is exactly what we'd be doing to McVeigh and Nichols," he says. "Taking a person out of a cage to kill them serves no purpose in our society. We continue the cycle of violence."
While he had abandoned unhealthy solutions to his grief, Welch's long healing process wasn't finished. He arranged to visit Bill McVeigh, Tim McVeigh's father, at his home near Buffalo, N.Y. Seeing an agonizing look of pain and sorrow in the man's eyes during a television interview, Welch wanted to assure Bill McVeigh that he didn't blame Bill for the killings.
Bill McVeigh's daughter joined them in a tearful encounter that made Bud and Bill friends.
"I found a bigger victim of the Oklahoma City bombing than myself," Welch said.
While Welch tells everyone he meets about his daughter, Bill McVeigh probably has little chance to talk about his loss.
"When Bill McVeigh meets strangers, he probably doesn't even tell them he has a son," Welch said.
The story of Welch's encounter with Bill McVeigh was especially poignant on Fountain Square. At the rally was Kim Hamer, who tearfully reminded the small crowd that the execution of her brother, John Byrd Jr., is only a month away.
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