September 14, 2004
OKLAHOMA CITY - Bud Welch, who lost a daughter in the Oklahoma City bombing, went from wanting to kill bomber Timothy McVeigh to becoming a leading opponent of the death penalty.
And along the way, he came to know and have sympathy for McVeigh's father, Bill McVeigh.
The journey of these two men after the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history forms the basis for "Bud & Bill," a film being produced by Robert Greenwald, known for the political documentaries "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism" and "Uncovered: The War in Iraq."
Julie Welch, 23, was working in the Social Security Administration office in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on the morning of April 19, 1995, when McVeigh pulled up in a bomb-laden Ryder truck and touched off an explosion that destroyed the building, killing 168 people.
For nearly a year, Welch wanted McVeigh to die for the crime. But he shed this wish for revenge, realizing it would not bring his daughter back, and began traveling the nation to speak out against the death penalty.
In his travels, he met McVeigh's father, a retired auto worker in Pendleton, N.Y.
"This is about my journey and Bill's journey," Welch said. "It's about what I went through in losing a daughter and what Bill went through in losing a son. Tim is as much dead as Julie and Tim was his son.
"You have to understand the feelings of family members who have been executed. They love them just the same in spite of what they've done."
The two men met about three years before McVeigh was executed by injection at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. They met again more than a year after the execution and have kept in contact by telephone.
"Me and Bud are friends," Bill McVeigh said in a telephone interview from his home. "He is on a crusade to stop the death penalty and he calls me from places you wouldn't believe."
He did not witness his son's death and holds no hard feelings toward the government. He said he is "more or less" opposed to the death penalty.
"I'm not positive on that," he said. "I'm a Catholic and they oppose it."
The idea for the film grew out of Welch's prominence as a death penalty opponent, said Alys Shanti, who is producing the film along with Greenwald.
"Robert and I are active opponents of the death penalty in the state of California and Bud Welch is such an integral figure to the movement that we started to read about him and in the process found a beautiful and compelling story," Shanti said.
She said the movie should be produced within the next year, and the release date will be several months after that. It is being developed as a low-budget feature for theatrical release.
While Welch has been outspoken in his opposition to the death penalty, many others who lost family members in the bombing favored McVeigh's execution and wanted McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, sent to the death chamber as well.
A federal jury in Denver sentenced Nichols to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the bombing. Oklahoma prosecutors tried him in state court earlier this year in hopes of winning a death sentence.
The lengthy prosecution, with an estimated cost of $10 million, resulted in Nichols being convicted of 161 counts of murder, but he was spared the death penalty when the jury deadlocked in the sentencing phase of the trial.