Bud Welch’s 23-year-old daughter Julie was working as an interpreter at the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, OK when she was killed on April 19, 1995 during the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the U.S. Timothy McVeigh, the perpetrator of the bombing, was executed for his crime on June 11, 2001. Despite the death and destruction, Bud Welch and McVeigh’s father Bill discovered more in common than they had driving them apart. Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing this year, author Jeanne Bishop is highlighting their stories in Grace From the Rubble (Zondervan, Apr. 14), which demonstrates that "love will always have the last word," she tells PW. "This is what we have to learn from these two men and find healing from both of them."
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Where did you get the idea for Grace From the Rubble, and what inspired you to write it?
I was really inspired by Bud Welch, and I got to meet him because of the murders in my own family. When my younger sister was killed by a juvenile in 1990 in Illinois, other states had the death penalty for juveniles, but Illinois didn’t. So the first question the press asked us was, ‘Are you disappointed he was sentenced to life instead of death?’ It was my first opportunity to say, ‘No, I don’t believe in shedding more blood and creating another grieving family like mine; it’s not going to bring my sister back or heal me.’ After that, other people reached out to me to speak out against the death penalty, and that’s how I met Bud Welch. I got to hear him tell the story about Julie. I love that he is telling her story in service of mercy, in service of reconciliation. She was the launching point to his whole journey—of hating and wanting McVeigh dead, and a total change of heart toward reform and becoming a spokesperson against killing McVeigh and against the death penalty.
How did you approach the two "main characters,” the fathers, about the book?
I knew Bud, and I knew the 25th anniversary of this horrific event was coming up, and I thought, I don’t want to rehash the horror of the crime or pay a whole lot of attention to Timothy McVeigh and why he did it. I did want to talk about this amazing act of reconciliation and redemption. Bud said yes, and I asked him to talk to Bill and vouch for me. Bill only picked up because Bud vouched for me, and he calls me the last one he’s speaking to. And I’m so glad he did, I especially want the world to know about him.
You share some of your own experiences with forgiving the murderer of your sister and two other family members. How did writing Grace From the Rubble impact what you already knew about forgiveness?
I think what I learned is that when you follow that impetus to forgive, to reach out the way Bud did, to listen and follow and obey that call, it leads to the most wonderful things you never imagined.
Why is Bud and Bill’s story so important now?
Because this kind of evil keeps happening; we have to grapple with this. And killing McVeigh didn’t do anything to heal us or move us forward, but what Bud and Bill did does. It shows a way out of the hate that led that guy to pick up the gun at the Tree of Life Synagogue, at Parkland, in Las Vegas, in Newtown. What we have to learn is: how do we heal these divisions? Healing that kind of hate in someone’s heart—it sounds soft and squishy, but it is not. Love is the most powerful force on earth, the only thing more powerful than hate.
What is the most important thing you want readers to take from the book?
To not be afraid to reach out to the other, to the one whom you might consider your enemy, to know there could be great healing in mutual understanding, and courage and love.