As much as his crime united the nation in shock, Timothy McVeigh’s death left Americans divided.
For many, there was certitude and satisfaction that justice had prevailed; others wrestled with moral doubts.
“When a society kills its killers, then we become a little bit more like them,” said Craig Hammond, director of a charity program in Bluefield, W. Va.
But from Doc Hardaway, who runs a shoeshine stand in Atlanta: “Like the Bible says, an eye for an eye.”
Although witnessed in person and on closed-circuit TV by barely 250 people, McVeigh’s death was a public event in a sense, a national execution.
In scores of communities – Albuquerque and Chicago; York, Pa., and Concord, N.H., among many others – people fumbled for a way to mark the occasion appropriately.
There were prayer services, vigils, subdued protests. A few catcalls directed at opponents of the death penalty.
A lot of introspection. Even a minor victory for civility:
\Two Los Angeles radio-show hosts canceled plans to bring an effigy of McVeigh to a bar so patrons could pummel it.
It was a wrenching day for many Americans, not least for those who seek to end all executions.
McVeigh never gave them ammunition for their arguments – no apology, no testimony of mental distress or an anguished childhood.
Even as she protested against the death penalty at the University of New Mexico, where demonstrators lit a candle for McVeigh and each of his 168 victims, Meg Gorham didn’t feel like pressing her case.
“Killing is not an answer to killing,” she said. But she also admitted that “I’m sure if my family were involved, it would be different.”
Similar modesty from Erica Thorneburg, attending a vigil outside the federal courthouse in St. Louis.
She wore a T-shirt opposing the death penalty, yet doubted she could articulate her views to families of McVeigh’s victims.
“I don’t know how I could explain it,” she said. “I don’t think it will ever make sense to them.”
How to make sense of McVeigh himself?
At his former church, in Pendleton, N.Y., a scattering of parishioners gathered at the hour of his execution.
“Everybody makes a mistake in his life – nobody’s perfect,” said Joseph Surdj, who once worked with McVeigh’s father at an auto plant.
Across upstate New York, 40 people gathered outside the state Capitol in Albany to pray for McVeigh and his victims.
“I do feel sympathy for him,” said Nicholas Barbara, 67.
“He’s an ex-Marine like I am, he’s a nice person.”
A different McVeigh was in the thoughts of William Dawkins, 69, a retired truck driver reading his paper on a bench near Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Like the majority of Americans, Dawkins supports the death penalty.
“I am glad to see it happen,” Dawkins said. “He could have cared less whether he killed one person or 100 people.”
Nor did the bomber win sympathy in Waco, Texas, site of the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound.
McVeigh said he destroyed the Oklahoma City federal building in part to protest that incident.
“He’s not considered a martyr for us. I’ve never even met him,” said Clive Doyle, a survivor of the Waco siege.
Outside Junction City, Kansas, Mark Morgan – a Kansas State University professor – was camping at the fishing lake where McVeigh and Terry Nichols assembled their bomb.
Morgan knew about the bombers’ links to the lake, although his motivation Monday was to fish, not to mark McVeigh’s execution.
“For those who lost family and loved ones, it’s going to be a long painful road,” Morgan said.