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Publication Date: Friday, October 18, 2002

At St. Francis, Oklahoma City parent speaks out against execution At St. Francis, Oklahoma City parent speaks out against execution (October 18, 2002)

By Faiza Hasan

The auditorium at St. Francis High School was packed with students last Thursday. On the stage, almost dwarfed by the podium, stood Bud Welch, ex-gas station owner and now anti-death penalty activist.

Welch had been invited by the school as a part of the death penalty awareness week for Catholic secondary schools in Santa Clara county. He spoke about the death of his daughter Julie Marie Welch, a Spanish translator, in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1994, and the personal journey which brought him to a point where he now speaks openly against the death penalty.

Welch spoke about his daughter, about her hopes and ambitions to a sympathetic teenage audience. He talked about the initial days after Julie's death at age 23, and how he smoked and drank to forget the pain. He said he felt "temporarily insane" with grief and would go every day to stand at the fence encircling the building where she died.

"You are going through a lot of grief and it is okay to be angry, to feel that you want retribution," he said in an interview. "Part of the healing process is to give yourself time, it is very important."

Welch told the students that he had always been against the death penalty, but in the initial months after Julie's death he went through a phase when he wanted Timothy McVeigh dead. But as time passed he realized that asking for the death penalty would be vengeance and that vengeance would not help heal the pain.

"I forgave Timothy McVeigh five and a half years ago," he said.

"I didn't want him to receive the death penalty," said Welch. "It didn't make me feel any different."

This realization led him to start talking and campaigning against the death penalty. He and some of the victims' families started lobbying against the death penalty. Welch has testified before the Oklahoma State Senate, the U.S. Congress and House Judiciary Committee.

"The strongest reason I have to be against the death penalty is that I don't think we should be doing God's work," said Welch. "We have no right, no government has the right to kill its own citizens."

Welch never met Timothy McVeigh, though he asked several times during his lifetime to see him. "I never talked to Timothy," he said. "I would have shown him Julie's picture and maybe got him to tell more. I don't believe that they were the only ones involved. They never got that information out of him."

Welch believes that McVeigh had other accomplices, and that by killing him, the authorities lost a good opportunity to discover who they were. He says that he saw no point in his death and would have preferred life imprisonment.

"Life in prison would give you retribution," he said. "But you don't need retribution," he added quickly.

Even though Welch never met McVeigh, he was able to meet his family. He remembered watching a television interview of Bill McVeigh, and recognized the pain in his eyes. So one day, a couple of years after the bombing, Welch found himself knocking at the McVeighs' door. He spent an afternoon with the family and says that he is still in touch with them.

Born and raised on a dairy farm in Oklahoma, Welch has now traveled around the world to speak against the death penalty and has addressed the British parliament and the Duma in Moscow with Sister Helen Prejean, the nun who authored the book "Dead Man Walking," which has been made into a film and opera.

Welch is also a member of the Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation and sits on the board of the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation. In the course of his work he has been the recipient of the Abolitionist of the Year from Coloradans against the Death Penalty and the Equal Justice Award from the Southern Center for Human Rights.

Welch has also been in touch with families of the victims of Sept. 11, trying to help by speaking about his experience at meetings and seminars.

On Sept. 11 last year, Welch was on his way to Washington D.C. when his flight was forced to land at St Louis. There, in a small hotel room, he watched the television in horror as it replayed images from the World Trade Center.

It brought back memories of a day, almost eight years ago, when he watched similar images of a building collapse in Oklahoma. Only then it was more personal, for he knew that his daughter Julie was one of the people buried inside the rubble.

"It was a setback," he said simply.

"It was a traumatic event," he continued. "But Sept. 11 instilled belief that the death penalty is in no way a deterrent against terrorism."

After spending the whole day talking to students at St. Francis High School, Welch spent the rest of his time traveling around the Bay Area giving similar talks to other schools and colleges.

When asked why he feels it is important to do what he is doing, Welch said that by talking about Julie and sharing some of his grief with the public, he feels as if he is bringing her to life.
E-mail Faiza Hasan at [email protected]


 

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