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Bud Welch, Father of Oklahoma City Victim, on Rejecting the Death Penalty & Healing After a Tragedy

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James Holmes, the suspected shooter behind Friday’s massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, is scheduled to appear in court for the first time today. He may face the death penalty. We’re joined by Bud Welch, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Julie in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people. After initially supporting capital punishment for his daughter’s killing, Welch has become a vocal opponent of the death penalty. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, James Holmes, the suspected shooter behind Friday’s slaughter, is scheduled to appear in court for the first time today. He may face the death penalty. The prosecution will be handled by the office of District Attorney Carol Chambers. According to the Denver Post, Chambers has sought the death penalty against six defendants in four cases during a time when only one other capital case had been filed in the state.

We’re joined now by Bud Welch. His 23-year-old daughter Julie was killed in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, April 19th, 1995. And he has become a vocal opponent of the death penalty, actually opposed the death penalty for Tim McVeigh.

Bud, welcome to Democracy Now! Welcome back to Democracy Now! I remember speaking to you years ago. Your daughter was killed in that bombing that killed, what, 168 people, left more than 600 people injured. You started off supporting the death penalty, didn’t you?

BUD WELCH: Yes, actually, all my life I had opposed the death penalty. However, I went through that—that typical revenge that I was seeking for almost a year after the Oklahoma City bombing. And I was finally able to start thinking more rationally about things and became, once again, opposed to it. And I’ve been traveling the world, actually, for more than 16 years, speaking against the death penalty, testifying before parliament members in various countries, statehouses, what have you. And I think the discussion right now of the death penalty in Aurora is—that shouldn’t even be discussed, because the death penalty is a political issue, and I don’t think that that should be even talked about. Give people a little bit of time—they’re not going to—the trial is not going to start probably for a year and a half or two years—and think things out a little bit rationally before the prosecutors start jumping to that, because we have to remember one thing about politics in America. The death penalty is a key part of prosecutors being re-elected, because they—in their re-election campaigns, they pound on the podium, and what they want to do actually is prove to us that they’re the baddest ass in the jungle, if you will, and prove that they’re tough on crime, by constantly talking about the death penalty.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bud, back April 19, 1995, you were living in Oklahoma City?

BUD WELCH: Yes, I—in fact, I still live here.

AMY GOODMAN: And your daughter Julie dies. You want to find who the killer is, and you want him killed. What was the epiphany you had, if you will? What changed you?

BUD WELCH: Amy, it was not an epiphany. What I had—the most important thing that the family members in Aurora have is time. They have to be given time to get—first of all, get rid of their initial anger, retribution. That’s a very normal thing. I didn’t realize that at the time I was going through it, that what I was actually doing was quite normal. But I started having some guilt feelings about having all of this anger. But then, later, I was able to, you know, to fully understand that that’s OK. And—but they need—they need time. They need plenty of time.

And, you know, that’s just like the family of the shooter, you know, what they will be going through. And it’s horrific, what the McVeigh family went through. I met the McVeigh family, a wonderful family. And I met Bill McVeigh, Tim’s father, about 40 months after Julie’s death, and his youngest daughter Jennifer. And that was a terrific healing process for me, to be able to extend a hand to them. I got involved in Columbine and met some of the family members there, and I actually ended up meeting one of the shooters’ parents and found them to be a very, very, very nice family. Because people in Columbine, they kept saying about the parents of the two young men, “How were these children—how where these children raised?” They weren’t raised any different than anyone else that they went to school with. They, you know, had some pretty nice homes, and the kids had separate rooms, and they were doing things as teenagers that the parents simply were not aware of. And I think that eventually we need to extend a hand to those families. They can’t go through it like I have, by speaking more than 16 years and telling all these wonderful stories about Julie, actually embellishing probably on her career some. You know, the fact that she spoke five languages, I’m so proud of that. And I have the chance to do that. Bill McVeigh never has the opportunity to tell anyone, you know, what a great kid Tim was at times, because I’ve met people that went to school with him and said he was, you know, a kind of a quiet guy but A-OK. He was apparently a good military man. We gave him three medals for his service in Desert Storm, and he came back with PTSD. The other two people he served with, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, they had PTSD, as well. Tim McVeigh just had it worse than the others. And they came back, and they were untreated.

AMY GOODMAN: Bud, you mentioned Columbine. One of the shooter, Eric Harris’s December 1997 school report called “Guns in School,” he wrote, “More and more we hear of shooting sprees and rampages on the news. Some can be prevented, some can not. Almost any school shooting could have been prevented in some way or another, we just have to spend the necessary time and money to figure out how.” I am reading the words of the shooter from Columbine. It’s absolutely amazing. We’ll post the letter on the—his paper on our website. We just have a minute to go, Bud, but in these last minutes on this show right now, the alleged shooter has not gone to court, but it’s believed he will face the death penalty. Your final thoughts, for you, Bud, for your daughter Julie, who was killed in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995?

BUD WELCH: Well, I have a tremendous amount of compassion for the victims’ family members. And the—you know, the first year after Julie’s death was the worst year I ever had in my life. I never want to repeat that again. And I’m very familiar with the area, Aurora, Denver, all that area. I actually lived in Colorado Springs for five years. My first child died at two months. He’s actually buried at Colorado Springs. My next child was born at Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs. So I’m very familiar with the people in Colorado. And I just have a lot of compassion for them. And they must have lots of time to go through the healing process.

AMY GOODMAN: Bud Welch, I want to thank you very much for being with us. And again, even all these years later, our condolences on the death of your daughter Julie, who died with 168 others on April 19th, 1995. Bud Welch has spoken out around this country against the death penalty.

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