Bud Welch found that he had a lot in common with the father of the man executed for killing 168 people — including Welch’s daughter Julie — in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. “We both buried our children, in different ways and at different times, but from the same event,” he said during a program here Tuesday night.
Julie Welch was 23, working as a Spanish interpreter in the Social Security Administration the morning that a bomb leveled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. She had just met a client in the lobby and was leading him into the office when the blast occurred, shortly after 9 a.m. on April 19, 1995. She was planning to have lunch with her father in a little Greek restaurant across the street later that day.
“That was a Wednesday; they found her body on Saturday,” Welch said. “I found out later that she and her boyfriend had been talking about getting engaged. Timothy McVeigh was convicted more than two years later and was ultimately executed, but nothing about that gave me any peace.”
A board member of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, Welch spoke to about 25 people in the St. Gabriel Church Hall. He talked about driving Julie to Marquette University for her freshman year, and inadvertently embarrassing her by taking his daughter’s teddy bear out of the car in front of her dorm. He described his daughter’s gift for learning languages, her two semesters studying abroad and her determination to win scholarships to help pay for college. But Julie was a real person who also had her flaws, Welch said.
“I’m not going to tell you about those tonight,” the retired service station owner said. But he shared one other memory: his daughter had opposed the 1991 Gulf War — the war that McVeigh and co-defendant Terry Nichols returned from with post-traumatic stress syndrome. A devout Catholic, Julie also opposed the death penalty, her dad said, “because she said it was teaching children to hate.”
And so, before the trial, Welch met with Bill and Jennifer McVeigh, Tim’s father and sister, in their Buffalo home and promised to do whatever he could to keep Timothy from getting the death penalty.
“When I said that, I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted from me,” Welch said. “I never felt closer to God, and I’d met an even bigger victim of the Oklahoma City bombing. Every time I talk about Julie I keep her memory alive, but because of what happened Bill McVeigh was never able to say anything positive about his son.”
Among the attendees Tuesday night was Joseph Benefico, a retired Milford police sargeant. His long career in law enforcement has left him with decidely mixed views on capital punishment, Benefico said. “On one hand there’s the chance that the wrong person could be executed. There have been 138 people cleared by DNA evidence who were on death row. But then, with the Cheshire home invasion, it’s really hard to oppose it in that case.”
Connecticut appears close once again to abolishing the death penalty, said Bo Chamberlin, field organizer for the state network working for its repeal. A bill in the Judiciary Committee is likely to be approved next week and presented to the House and Senate for a full vote, and Gov. Dannel P Malloy has promised to sign it, Chamberlin said. Then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a similar measure in 2009.
Bo Chamberlin, Field Organizer for the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty, introduces Bud Welch, whose daughter, Julie, died in the Oaklahoma City bombing, during a speaking engagement at St. Gabriel Church Hall in Milford on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.