When Bud Welch's daughter, Julie, was killed in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, he began a journey of trying to deal with her loss, he said.
The journey began as a metaphor, but now has lead him to 46 states and France, Belgium, England, Russia and Kenya on a mission to abolish the death penalty. This week, the journey brings Welch to Alaska.
"My ultimate goal is to get the death penalty abolished in all the states," Welch said. "Alaska does not have it and naturally I don't want them to even consider it."
Alaska, like 11 other states and the District of Columbia, doesn't execute convicted criminals. In the 1990s, several bills to make death one possible penalty for first-degree murder failed in the Alaska Legislature. A bill to authorize a citizens' advisory vote on the death penalty passed the Senate in 1996 and 1997 but died in House committees. No bills to institute the death penalty were filed in the 2001-02 Legislature or have been so far in the 2003-04 Legislature.
Welch arrived in Anchorage last Wednesday and will travel to Juneau on Tuesday. While here, he will visit high school students, give a public talk, meet with legislators, and participate in a round-table discussion with Bishop Michael Warfel of the Southeast Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, Rep. John Coghill of Fairbanks and Rep. Carl Gatto of Palmer.
"Basically, what I call my speech is 'from rage to reconciliation,' " Welch said. He will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Although Welch and his family always have been opposed to the death penalty, he didn't become an activist in the anti-death-penalty movement until his daughter was killed.
"My daughter was actively against it," he said. "... After her death it took me a year to resolve everything, and I'm actively against it now, too."
Bud Welch began speaking out against the death penalty in 1996 when an internationally distributed article quoted him saying he did not wish for the execution of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of bombing the Oklahoma City federal building, which killed 168 people. When the article was published, groups around the country began asking Welch to share his story.
"On June 11, 2001, we ... killed McVeigh, and there was nothing in that that brought me any peace." he said. "... Killing people has nothing to do with getting closure."
Welch has testified before the legislative bodies of 20 states, as well as Congress. He also is on the board of directors for Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, a national anti-death-penalty organization made up of family members of murder victims, and for the Oklahoma City National Memorial Foundation.
Welch's visit to Juneau is sponsored by Alaskans Against the Death Penalty, a nonprofit group based in Anchorage. Catholic dioceses in Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage are co-sponsors of the visit, along with several individual donors.
The group regularly brings speakers to the state to give public presentations and to meet with legislators.
"There's always a threat that some legislator will introduce a bill to bring it back," said Mary Grisco, a coordinator of Welch's visit.
Grisco heard Welch speak in Anchorage and said, "It made grown men cry."
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