the men sat in the kitchen, a humble place for such an event, they
had walked in the garden. Two fathers, both raised in Catholic schools,
both divorced from their children’s mothers, both who helped raise
a son and a daughter, talked for more than an hour.
That the meeting took
place seems miraculous. One man owns a business and had traveled from
middle America. The other, in whose house they met, works in a New
York state factory. They want the same thing: to save the son of the
New York man from execution.
The father from Oklahoma,
Emmett E. “Bud” Welch, had buried his daughter, Julie-Marie, on a
1995 spring day.
New York state resident
William McVeigh is the father of the man sentenced to die for killing
Julie-Marie and 167 others on April 19, 1995, in the Oklahoma City
bombing of the Murrah Federal Building.
for Julie-Marie's Call
The morning of the
bombing Bud was still home thinking about lunch with his daughter.
Every Wednesday they met at a Greek restaurant across from Julie’s
workplace. Shortly after 9 a.m., his brother-in-law telephoned and
said, “Turn on the television, Bud.”
Bud says, “I spent two
days near the telephone, waiting after the bombing. Julie always telephoned
me. I didn’t go to the bomb site. I wouldn’t have been allowed to
get close, so I stayed near the telephone.” He hoped to receive her
familiar telephone call. Instead, he was told her body had been found
the Saturday after the bombing.
“The first five weeks
after the bombing are a blur to me. I wanted McVeigh and Nichols hanged,
no trials necessary. I suffered from a temporary insanity. I would
have killed them with my bare hands if I could have reached them.
“Then, the realization
hit me that trials were necessary. We didn’t know beyond a doubt that
they [McVeigh and Nichols] were truly guilty.
“In January 1996, I
asked myself, ‘What is it going to do for me if McVeigh and Nichols
are executed?’ I repeated the question for about three weeks and kept
getting the same answer: Their deaths wouldn’t help me one bit.”
Bud has written articles
for Time and other magazines and newspapers about his wanting
Tim McVeigh to live. He has been interviewed on television and for
María Ruiz Scaperlanda’s book, Their Faith Has Touched Us.
Solves No Problems'
Sometimes Bud becomes
emotional as he speaks about Julie-Marie. Usually talking about her
makes him smile. Born seven weeks premature, she was given a 10-percent
chance of survival. Her early difficulties, though, did not cause
any permanent physical defects.
In seventh grade Julie-Marie
Welch met a non-English-speaking Mexican girl who quickly became bilingual,
which made Julie long to speak a foreign language. She mastered Latin,
German, Spanish and French in Catholic high school and spent 11 months
of her junior year studying in Spain. She returned there during her
Marquette University undergraduate days.
In August 1994 she began
work as an interpreter for the Social Security Administration in Oklahoma
City. That April morning, Julie had walked to the waiting room to
meet a client when the bomb detonated.
“I know I should forgive
Timothy McVeigh. I hope I do before he dies,” Bud says.
For now, he travels
throughout this country, urging that Timothy McVeigh live. Julie-Marie
would want that, he insists.
Despite his average
build, Bud dominates a room. He says, “I still have moments of rage
in which I say he [Timothy McVeigh] shouldn’t be allowed to live.
But those moments don’t last long, thank goodness.” Smoothing his
white hair, he quietly adds, “I was surprised by the people who celebrated
when McVeigh’s sentence of death was announced. Vengeance solves no
problems. The criminal commits a violent act. Then we, as a society,
ratchet it up; we do him violence. Next, we ask ourselves, ‘Why are
we such a violent society?’”
His college campus audience
nods as he adds, “People talk about how coddled prisoners are. We
take away everything from them and teach them to hate. They come out
with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminology!”
Bud notes that, in the
first 72 hours after the bombing, President Bill Clinton and Attorney
General Janet Reno promised to seek out, find the people responsible
and apply the death penalty. “That was the big fix,” he says. “My
government was going to fix this horrible crime by causing more death.
And I bought into that.
“I don’t anymore,” he
explains. “The main countries that have the death penalty are Libya,
Iran, Iraq, China and the United States—not very good bedfellows.”
Carry Children's Pain
Julie-Marie Welch had
lived her faith. Each day she attended Mass at Our Lady of Mount Carmel/St.
Thérèse Little Flower Church. At the Oklahoma City parish where Mexicans
worship, she ran a children’s program. Often, she telephoned Bud and
asked him to meet her there for Mass. When she came for Mass, her
father says, “Kids would come running across the street yelling her
name. I wish I had the faith Julie had.”
Once father and daughter
listened to a news report about an execution. “All they’re doing is
teaching children to hate,” Julie said to her father. And Bud now
refuses to be a part of that hate. He realized, “I was a physical
and mental wreck because I was stuck on April 19, 1995. I smoked one
and a half packs a day before the bombing. Afterward, I started smoking
three packs a day. I was drinking three or four rum-and-Cokes a night.
I’ve cut that out, and in July 1998 I stopped smoking.”
He had seen glimpses
of the McVeigh family on TV news programs and, from a distance, at
the trial. “Timothy’s father’s pain has to be incredible,” says Bud.
“As best I can tell, he did everything right. He raised his kids as
Catholics. I think the U.S. military screwed up Timothy McVeigh. There
are some people who are not fit for military service. I think Tim
was one. He couldn’t separate the trained killer instinct he had been
taught during his years with the military from civilian life when
he got out.
“I can’t imagine what
it must be like for Bill McVeigh. I’m not sure I could survive if
my son had participated in causing death like that.” Bud believes
that Timothy McVeigh was suicidal. Asked to explain, he answers, “No
person who isn’t [suicidal] drives a truck from Kansas loaded with
4,000 pounds of explosives just a few feet from your head!”
Bud currently spends
less time in Oklahoma City than on the road addressing church and
secular groups. “I speak out more for myself than for Julie. First
I was doing it more for her,” he explains. “So many people have told
me once the accused is executed, it’s horrible for the victim. Victims
have said when the criminal is alive, they might want him dead. I
don’t want the guilt and emotional difficulties I would suffer over
a state execution.
“I’m focusing on one
person, Timothy McVeigh. I do not want him executed.”
the Suspect Tim?
On Wednesday, April
19, 1995, William McVeigh had worked until about 6:30 a.m. He attended
a bowling meeting at 9 a.m. and later took his car for service. That
evening, he worked Bingo at his parish. Sometime in the afternoon
he had seen TV coverage of the bombing. “We talked about the bombing
at Bingo,” he says. “I remember thinking it was just another terrorist
Two days later, the
F.B.I. phoned. “I was supposed to go to Reno on April 23, which is
Tim’s birthday. I was going to the American Bowling Congress (ABC)
tournament held in Reno every three years. That Friday the F.B.I.
woke me up. I had worked until 10:30 a.m. that day. They were down
the street and wanted to talk to me.
“It really hit me when
I saw all the cars in my yard. The two guys who called had a car.
Some cars were across the road. The F.B.I. brought a SWAT team. I
suppose they didn’t know what to expect.”
Slowly, Bill shakes
his head as if to erase the memory or perhaps to clear it. “They showed
me a picture [the suspect sketch] and asked if that was Tim. I said,
‘It probably could be. He was really upset about Waco [the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ raiding of the Branch Davidian compound
in Waco, Texas] and not happy with the government.’ I had no idea
the 19th of April was the anniversary of Waco.”
The F.B.I. wanted Bill
to go to Oklahoma City and talk to his son, who had already been arrested
and taken to jail. Since he is a man who deals with the concrete,
he told them, “I can’t. I’m going to Reno to go bowling.” His pastor
convinced him he should forgo Reno. “I told them I’d cooperate. They
took me to prison to talk to Tim. Tim knew I was coming. He knew what
I’d ask him. He knows me, and I know him. He knows that I don’t hide
They didn’t visit for
long. “We asked each other the same questions five times. Finally,
Tim said, ‘I think you better go, Dad.’”
Bill found later visits
with his son more satisfying. He visited Tim several times during
jury selection and the later penalty phase for his Denver trial.
Bill talks quietly.
“This article you’re going to write will help Tim?” he asks. He turns
down invitations to TV talk shows.
Part of his reticence
with the press may stem from the week immediately following his son’s
arrest. “There would be 40-50 media people outside. They’d leave their
garbage and I’d clean it up before they came the next day.” He resented
being misquoted. In Denver, he couldn’t leave his hotel without being
besieged. Now he keeps his distance.
“I’m not outgoing like
my kids.” He laughs and adds, “Tim could stand in a line at a grocery
store and, before you knew it, he’d be talking to everybody.”
Bill McVeigh golfs and
bowls. He gardens and relaxes with his daughter, Jennifer, and her
two cats. He helps run a regional bowling tournament. His family comes
first. “I first went on this shift [working nights] in 1984 when I
got divorced, so I’d work while Tim slept.”
He tells how 11-month-old
Tim broke his wrist climbing out of his crib, then chuckles about
how often his son went to the emergency room. “He was all boy—always
into or up to something.
“Tim never did drugs
or drank. He was never arrested. I had trouble getting him out of
bed.” Bill chuckles at the memory.
“He didn’t always do
his schoolwork. He was very busy. Despite working at Burger King,
he never missed a day in high school and got an award. He even passed
up a Confirmation class trip.” Bill says the DRE called Tim’s school
when the boy insisted on maintaining his perfect school attendance,
thus missing the CCD trip.
“Tim was very likable,”
says his father. “One day, I came home from work and found Tim giving
chips and drinks to about 15 kids, kids of all ages, out on our pool