Bud Welch joins us from Oklahoma City to talk about the April 19, 1995 bombing that killed 168 including his 23-year-old daughter Julie. Welch made headlines for opposing the execution of Timothy McVeigh. [includes rush transcript]
Today is the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah Federal Bulding in Oklahoma City. There are memorial commemorations there and in other cities across the country. In all, some 168 people were killed that day; 19 of them children — many of whom died as they played in their day care center. Two men were convicted in the attack — Timothy McVeigh, who was executed a few years ago and Terry Nichols who remains in prison. At the time, the Oklahoma City bombing was considered to be the worst terror attack in history on US soil. To look back on that day, we go now to Oklahoma City. We are joined on the phone by Bud Welch, whose 23-year-old daughter Julie was killed in Oklahoma City 10 years ago today. He is speaking to us from the memorial service.
- Bud Welch, his 23-year old daughter Julie was killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by Bud Welch. His 23-year-old daughter, Julie, was killed ten years ago today. He is speaking to us from the memorial service on his cell phone. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Bud Welch.
BUD WELCH: Thanks. Good morning. Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you describe the scene right now?
BUD WELCH: Well, actually, the scene is still pretty quiet. It’s quite early. Of course, it’s just shortly after 7:00 here, and however, I would guess that there’s probably already a couple of hundred people in the area, and we’re expecting a very large crowd that will gather here by 9:00.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can, and I hate to ask you to do this, but could you go back ten years ago to that day on April 19, 2005 — 1995, and talk about the morning. Where were you?
BUD WELCH: I was at home that morning, and I live about eight miles from the Murrah Building, and when the bomb went off, it shook my house violently. It did not break any windows, but not far from us, it did break windows in homes. Of course, I could not imagine what had taken place. I learned within about 10 or 12 minutes after that that the Murrah Building indeed had been bombed. I saw it on television, and I gave up all hope that Julie could have survived, because all I could see was a pile of rubble about 25 feet high. And I knew that she worked on the first floor. And I remained at home for 48 hours by the telephone, because I knew that if Julie got out of the building, that the first thing that she would do would be to call me. I’m of a large family and had family members at every hospital in the metropolitan area, actually as far away as 40 miles.
AMY GOODMAN: What did she do at the Oklahoma City building? What was her job?
BUD WELCH: She was a Spanish translator for the Social Security Administration. She had been a foreign exchange student for one year in high school, lived with a family in Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain, and had won a foreign language scholarship to Marquette University in Milwaukee, and Julie had graduated from there in 1994 with a degree in Spanish and a minor in French and Italian. And Julie had learned to speak five languages. That morning she had an appointment with a Mexican man that could not speak English. And she had left her office at the rear of the Murrah Building and went to the front to the Social Security waiting room to get her client who had been brought by his minister, and the three of them were returning to her office and got about halfway through the building when the bomb went off at 9:02. And that was on Wednesday morning. And all three bodies were found together on Saturday.
AMY GOODMAN: You became well known because you spoke out against the death penalty. Timothy McVeigh has since been executed, but can talk about your feelings, and on that day, on April 19, 1995, were you opposed to the death penalty?
BUD WELCH: All of my life, I have been opposed to the death penalty. That goes back through my parents, even my grandparents, and it was never a big issue for me at all, because I had never been caught on either side of it, and I had been told occasionally by a friend if I made the remark that I opposed the death penalty, they would say, if it ever happens to you, you’ll change your mind. And immediately after the bombing, after Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols had been arrested and charged, and that took place by about the time that Julie’s body was found, I have to tell you that the vengeance and the hate that I had in me was so strong that I didn’t want trials for McVeigh or Nichols. I kept that — I kept that anger, that hard anger for probably a month. Then I finally accepted the fact after about four weeks that we had to have trials to hopefully learn the truth. I still struggled with the death penalty issue for another nine or ten months beyond that. I was — I spent 37 years running Texaco service stations here in Oklahoma City. And I had closed my Texaco station at night, and the first thing that I would do when I would arrive at home is make a drink. And if I drank enough when I went to bed, I could go to sleep. It was the next day that I was paying for it. And this kept escalating over this several month period. The hangovers were lasting until midmorning, then midday. Probably the last 30 days of that ten-month period, they were lasting all day long. I came to the bomb site each day after Julie’s death. I had a special closeness. I felt a special closeness by being here, because, of course, that was the last place she was alive. And I actually was to meet Julie that Wednesday at 11:30 to have lunch with her. We tried to meet each Wednesday for lunch.
I remember coming at the end of January, it was about 3:00 in the afternoon. My head was splitting from abusing alcohol the night before, the self-medication that I was doing. And I went to asking myself a whole series of questions. What did I need to do to be able to move forward, because I was stuck on April the 19th of ’95. And three questions stuck out in my mind for probably 20 or 25 days. That is, do you need trials to begin now? Because the first trial did not start for 25 months. Do you need convictions? And do you need executions? And those weighed heavy on my mind for the next three weeks. And I finally came to the conclusion that the day that we might take Tim McVeigh or Terry Nichols from their cage to kill them would be an act of revenge and hate, and revenge and hate is the very reason that Julie and 167 others are dead in this great city today. It was the vengeance that McVeigh and Nichols had against the United States government for what had happened at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and what had happened at Waco, Texas, April 19, 1993. The Murrah Building bombing was the second anniversary of Waco. And I could see what their vengeance, how that had pushed them off the table, so to speak, and I knew I needed to redirect mine. And I was able to start reconciling things at that point and going through the long process of finally actually being able to forgive Tim McVeigh five-and-a-half years later.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Bud Welch. His daughter, Julie, 23 years old, was killed ten years ago in the Oklahoma City bombing. He is on a cell phone at the memorial site today. The memorial will begin soon. You met with Timothy McVeigh’s father?
BUD WELCH: Yes, I did. I was in western New York, the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area in 1998, in September for a speaking engagement. I had gone there for seven days. And prior to going there, I had received a telephone call 38 months after the bombing, this was in June of 1998, from a nun from Attica Prison. She does minister work there. The purpose of her call was for me to go there and speak out against the death penalty. I had been in Syracuse in April, two months earlier. And that’s how she got my name and telephone number. And I told her the story of seeing Bill McVeigh about three weeks after the bombing on television and how I could see this deep pain in his father’s eye. I knew at that point that someday, even though I was so angry then, that I didn’t even want to trial for his son, that someday I was going to need to tell that man that I truly cared how he felt or his family, for what his son had done. And I had the chance to do that nearly three-and-a-half years later. And when I went to Bill’s house, I knocked on the door. I had learned the night before after a speech from people that knew him that Bill was extremely shy and didn’t talk much. But his hobby each summer is growing a very large garden in his back yard. He lives on about two acres of land. After I knocked on the door, I said to Bill, I said, “Bill, I understand that you have a nice garden in your backyard.” And when I said that, this big guy, he is about 6’3”. His face lit up like you had thrown a spotlight on him. He got this big smile on his face. He said, “Yeah, would you like to see it?” And I said, “I would love to.” I knew when I was following him through his garden to his backyard that we would find common ground. We spent about a half hour in the garden and about an hour-and-a-half in the house just getting to know one another, and when I left his house two hours later, I recognized at that moment that I really had met a bigger victim of the Oklahoma City bombing than myself. And I say that in spite of the fact that I no longer have Julie. I travel all over the world speaking. I speak strongly against the death penalty. Julie was strongly against the death penalty. And when I speak, I always brag on Julie. I tell wonderful stories about her and some things that she did and things that we did together. And I don’t have to tell people the ugly things that she did, and she darn sure did her share of those things, as well. But when Bill McVeigh awakens each morning, he awakens with that noose around his neck that his son was convicted of killing Julie Welch and 167 others. And I think it’s very difficult for Bill each day. And, you know, Bill has done the same thing that I have done now. Bill has buried a child. You know, when your parents die, you go to the hilltop and you bury them. When your children die, you bury them in your heart, and it’s forever. You never get beyond that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bud Welch, I want to thank you very much for joining us.
BUD WELCH: Thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you. Bud Welch, standing at the memorial that is about to begin, lost his daughter, Julie, on April 19, 1995, ten years ago today.