This week marked the eleventh anniversary of the execution of Timothy McVeigh and Andrew Cohen wrote an excellent piece about the concept of closure in reviewing Jody Lyneé Madeira’s Killing McVeigh: The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure.
In particular, Cohen highlights the experience of my friend Bud Welch, who lost his daughter Julie in the bombing and who was outspoken in his opposition to McVeigh’s execution. I worked with Bud and many other remarkable people like him in the eight years that I served on the Board of Directors of the Journey of Hope; they made it possible for me to understand that words like forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t descriptions of an event so much as an ongoing process, thereby highlighing the insidiousness of those who hold out the possibility that victims’ family members will “get closure” from witnessing an execution.
Cohen does a nice job of using Bud’s story to bring this home:From Killing McVeigh:One of the most spectacular participant experiences with perpetrators’ family members arose out of media interview with McVeigh’s father. Bud Welch [the father of bombing victim Julie Welch] was struck by a television interview with Bill McVeigh [the bomber’s father] about a year after the bombing in which he was “physically stooped in grief”; Welch explained, “He had a deep pain in his eye that I recognized immediately because I was living that same pain at that same moment,” Then and there, he said, “I knew that someday I needed to go tell that man that I truly cared how he felt and did not blame him or his family for what his son had done.
Welch and McVeigh met in September 1998 in upstate New York, Madiera tells us, and “the two men spent the first half hour of the visit literally finding common ground in Bill McVeigh’s garden.” Inside the house:
One particular photo of Tim soon caught Welch’s attention, and his gaze was repeatedly drawn to that image. He eventually realized that he had to say something about why he was drawn to the picture. “Finally, I just said, ‘God, what a good looking kid,” Welch recalled. His comment was greeted by silence; finally, Bill McVeigh looked at him and said, “That’s Timothy’s high school graduation picture.” At that moment, Welch related, “There was this big tear that rolled out of right eye, down his cheek. And I could see at that moment that this father could cry for his son.”
Reflecting back upon this meeting, Welch said: “I think what happened that Saturday morning in western New York is that I found a bigger victim of the Oklahoma City bombing than myself.” While Welch has had numerous opportunities to talk about [his daughter, Julie, killed at the Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995], he emphasized, “Bill doesn’t have a chance to ever say anything positive about Tim.”
What happened inside the kitchen of Bill McVeigh’s house that September day is how and why tortured people achieve a measure of peace from the torment in their lives. For them, nothing ever closes. And nothing ever will.