Execution of Timothy McVeigh
Day of reckoning
Survivors, families ready for this to be over
By Michele Holtkamp
Timothy McVeigh killed Paul Howell's daughter, Karan Shepherd, when he blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
Six years later, Howell will have the chance to look McVeigh in the eyes as he is put to death for his crime.
"It is still kind of hard, I don't know what the heck is going to happen when I get up there," said Howell, 63, who was selected from the pool of survivors to witness McVeigh's execution at the U.S. Penitentiary, Terre Haute this morning.
"I'm trying to get prepared for what McVeigh might say. There are just so many things going on through my mind; it is just unbelievable," Howell said.
McVeigh, who killed 168 people when he blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, is scheduled to die by lethal injection at 7 a.m. today. He will be the first federal criminal put to death since 1963.
Howell will be among 10 survivors and victim witnesses to watch McVeigh's execution in person, separated from McVeigh by only a piece of glass in a viewing room. Hundreds more will watch via a closed-circuit TV feed in Oklahoma City.
"I'm ready for it to be over with," Howell said. "I just want everything to be over with."
But not all the survivors and witnesses are sure that the horror of the Oklahoma City bombing will end with McVeigh's death.
"I don't know if it'll ever be the end," said Roy Sells, an Oklahoma City man whose wife, Lee, was killed in the bombing. Her body wasn't uncovered in the rubble for 10 days. "It'll be the last step in McVeigh's life, but for me, life will go on," Sells said. "I don't think watching a person die is going to be a joy for me."
McVeigh became America's most notorious, home-grown terrorist when he detonated a 7,000-pound truck bomb in front of the federal building. In his mind, he was striking back at the government for the deaths at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco and at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.
He has never expressed any remorse for the killings. He called 19 children killed in the building's day care "collateral damage."
McVeigh was arrested the day of the bombing during a traffic stop, and by the end of the week the FBI had linked him to the bombing. He was sentenced to die in 1997.
Don Rogers, who was the manager of the Murrah building and helped run it from the day it opened until the day it was destroyed, is anxious to see McVeigh die.
"The day they caught him, and of course the day they found him guilty in Denver, especially that day, I couldn't wait for him to meet this state," said Rogers, who was in the building when the bomb exploded. "I've been quite looking forward to this."
Rogers, 60, of Norman, Okla., is part of the group of victims who hired a lawyer to assure the closed-circuit broadcast of the execution be fed to Oklahoma City. But he won't be among the hundreds of survivors and victims who gather in Oklahoma City today to watch.
He plans on sitting at his ranch home with his wife and watching news of the execution unfold on television.
"I've been really mad and really upset for many years, because he took away so many lives," Rogers said, reflecting on five years of depression, survivor guilt and nightmares that followed the bombing. But the moment McVeigh dies, "I hope a little bit of that anger will go away," he said.
Calvin Moser isn't looking for a great release of anger when he and his wife, Ginny, huddle in the crowd of survivors watching via closed-circuit in Oklahoma.
"I feel like I have an obligation to the friends and colleagues of mine who were lost in this bombing to go," he said.
Although at least 1,400 members of the media will cover the execution live from Terre Haute, Moser sees the execution as a "total non event."
"What we're actually going to witness is someone being sedated. They go to sleep, are taken out on a gurney and that's it," he said.
Moser, who still works for the federal government in the Department of Native American Programs, lost more than half his hearing in the bombing. The stress caused him to develop diabetes. Today, he still loses his balance and can never rid his ears of the constant ringing. Every now and then, a piece of glass will work out of his flesh.
His wife came searching for him in the building, and ended up sitting with children's bodies brought out from the building's day care. Their lives have never been the same since.
As long as McVeigh is alive, he said, he will continue to haunt those who survived the bombing or lost loved ones. The only way to put an end to McVeigh's reign of terror and pain is "for him to be gone," Moser said.
Yet not all the survivors agree. There are those who, despite tremendous losses, still don't support the death penalty.
Bud Welch, who lost his only daughter, Julie, is among them.
At first, Welch said, he wanted to see McVeigh die. "I'd have killed him myself if I thought I had a chance to do it," he said in an interview earlier this year, shortly before he came to Terre Haute to spread his message of forgiveness.
But he could not move on with his life while holding onto the hate, he said. He let go of his rage, he said, and remains an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, even in McVeigh's case.
"Julie's death grips me every single day. But I don't live with that vengeance and rage every day," he said. "Some people here in Oklahoma City still live with it. Some will still live with that vengeance and rage after they take Timothy McVeigh from his cage and execute him."
But for those like Rogers, keeping McVeigh alive serves no purpose. "I think he's a madman who doesn't have a conscience," Rogers said. "And those kind of people, we don't need them here on this earth."
Howell, who will watch McVeigh take his final breaths, thinks the execution will give him a certain peace of mind. "It is kind of like what we call out of sight, out of mind," Howell said. "That's what I'm hoping this person will be."
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