TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — About 300 demonstrators – far fewer than expected – converged on the federal prison where Timothy McVeigh was executed Monday, praying or quietly holding signs, then quickly dispersing after his death.
Prison officials had set up protest zones for death penalty opponents and supporters, separating them with 400 yards of orange snow fencing and armed guards.
Authorities were prepared to handle 1,000 people or more, but only about 300 showed up – fewer than 100 in support of the death penalty and about 200 against it, said Jim Cross, executive assistant of the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute.
Their numbers were dwarfed by the 1,300 journalists on hand.
Unitarian minister Bill Breeden told the death-penalty opponents that the fight against the capital punishment would go on. “We must run with the chariot and continue this struggle until it stops,” he said.
Death penalty supporters let out a cheer and hugged upon hearing McVeigh was dead.
Organizers said the postponement of the original execution date of May 16, and the timing of the execution just days after the last court battle was dropped, contributed to the low turnout.
Earlier in the day, candles flickered as death penalty opponents, heads bowed, sat in a circle, silently mouthing the names on a list of the 168 victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. They remained silent for 168 minutes – one minute for each victim of the bombing.
Protesters on both sides held signs in the glare of television spotlights.
“What have we accomplished by executing Timothy McVeigh now that there are 169 people dead?” asked 49-year-old Bert Fitzgerald of Madison, Ind.
Both groups took buses from city parks to the makeshift protest grounds at the prison.
Russell Braun, 21, of Terre Haute, held a sign reading “Bye Bye Baby Killer.” He said he came to the prison to make sure the survivors were remembered.
“It has nothing to do with McVeigh,” Braun said. “The kids could have grown up and made a difference in this world, and they weren’t even given a chance.”
Both sides left quickly in buses after McVeigh’s death.