How two grieving families overcame depression and hate after Oklahoma City bombing

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

It was a building that refused to give up its dead.

"These are my sons, Elijah Coverdale, who is two years old, and Aaron Coverdale, who is five years old," said Keith Coverdale, holding up a picture. They both had been attending the day care center in the building.

Jannie Coverdale, the boys' grandmother, refused to give up hope.

"I'm almost positive that Aaron and Elijah will be found alive," she said in the days following the bombing.

Fate would not allow it. The boys, inseparable in life, would share the same casket.

"I kept saying I believe in miracles," says Jannie. "When they came and told me they had identified their bodies, I started screaming at God and I told him I would never serve him again. And I meant it."

Jannie's anger and depression grew in the days after the funeral. She came on the morning of the building's demolition, thinking its destruction would help her heal. It failed.

"I didn't think I was going to feel that way," says Jannie. "I didn't think that I would. It just felt like some of me was going down with the building."

And part of her did. Her grief and anger became unbearable.

"I got out of bed. I poured all of my Xanax in my hand and I got a glass of water. And just as I was taking my hand into my mouth, a voice asked me, 'Are you sure you want to do this to the rest of your family?' And I knew who was talking to me. And I said, "Oh no, Lord. No."

Her salvation would come not from pills, but from a postage stamp.

She wrote a scathing letter to the man convicted of murdering her grandsons, Terry Nichols.

"And he answered my letter and that's when and he asked me, for all the pain and suffering I've caused you and your family, please forgive me."

The letters continued for several years, some answering Jannie's questions about the bombing.

In one, Nichols says Tim McVeigh indicated to him "it was not going to be a occupied structure," leading Nichols to believe "it was going to be a monument, bridge, or similar structure."

In another, he says, "Yes, the bombing has affected a great multitude of people... greatly. It should never have happened."

Jannie says, "I had a journey. A very long journey. And my anger really didn't go away until I started writing Terry Nichols. And he asked me to forgive him."

She says she has.

Bud Welch lost his 23-year-old daughter, Julie, during the bombing.

"I lived with so much hate for the first four weeks after her death that I didn't even want a trial for Tim McVeigh or Terry Nichols. I wanted them fried," says Bud.

Julie was a beautiful young woman, a Spanish translator in the Social Security Office.

The burned skeleton of her car was found parked under the Survivor Tree.

Bud says, "The bombing was Wednesday morning. Her body wasn't found until Saturday."

Bud grieved for more than a year with a bottle in his hand.

"Every muscle in my body ached from alcohol abuse."

By chance, Bud saw a television interview with Bill McVeigh, Tim's father. He says he saw a familiar pain in the man's eyes.

"A pain I could recognize because I was living the same pain at the same moment. And I knew in spite of my feelings about his son at that point, I needed to tell that man I truly cared how he felt and did not blame him or his family for what his son had done."

Bud traveled to New York state just to do that. After spending the afternoon with Bill McVeigh, they cried together over the loss of their children.

"All of a sudden it was like this weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I never felt closer to God than I did at that moment."

Bud Welch unsuccessfully fought Tim McVeigh's execution.

"On June 11th, 2001, a Monday morning at 7 a.m. in Terre Haute, Indiana we took Tim McVeigh from his cage and we killed him. And there's nothing about that process that brought me any peace."

Bud says, "Bill McVeigh and I had one thing in common. We'd both buried our children. they both died in very different ways, but we both buried our children."

Julie's chair is among the 168 on the memorial grounds. Faces that never grow older, their absence from our lives still felt these twenty years later.

Bud Welch says forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.

"When you forgive, it's not an event, it's a process. And it goes on many, many months. And, sometimes, many, many years."

The Survivor Tree witnessed the tragedy, but more importantly, those moments after the bombing when the nation watched as Oklahomans came together.

There was no regard to religion, class, or race.

It was a glimpse of the world as it can be.

Report a typo

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.