Bill Hemmer: For most, closure will take the rest of their lives
CNN Anchor Bill Hemmer reports from Terre Haute, Indiana, where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed Monday morning.
Q: What was the mood outside the prison immediately after McVeigh was declared dead -- and how did it develop in the hours after the execution?
A: At this time we are several hours after the execution and a number of people who came to cover this story are already packing up and leaving this western Indiana town. When I came here to Terre Haute at the end of last week, I came with mixed feelings. It was my first execution and I was not quite sure how I would feel. I can say this: On nearly every story we cover, no matter how bad, often there is a silver lining or some line of humor that may be invoked. But there is none of that here.
Q: During your interviews this morning outside the prison and conversations with others there in Terre Haute, what would you define as the most poignant moment surrounding the events of the morning?
A: I was struck by a woman named Peggy Broxterman. Her older son, Paul, was killed in the bombing. Through all the sadness and the tears and the pain that we heard today, Peggy had a smile. It struck me as she told me live on CNN that from the first day she felt Timothy McVeigh should die, and today she said her wish and her dream came true. Clearly there are a number of people whose lives are forever affected by the bombing, and how they choose to heal themselves is a deeply personal decision.
Q: Have you come away with the sense that the execution of McVeigh has brought the closure that so many people were seeking?
A: Many people today speaking in Oklahoma City and here in Terre Haute talked about closure, not today, but when they themselves die. I get the feeling in large part that most people believe today was simply another step in their own personal recovery. I do agree with them when I hear them say that their pain today will be with them for the rest of their lives. Many people said they would not be whole again until they leave this Earth.
Q: There were demonstrators gathered outside the prison -- one group protesting and one group supporting the death penalty. The number of demonstrators was much smaller than expected. Any word as to why the demonstrations did not come off as planned?
A: The original execution date was set for May 16. When that was postponed nearly a month until today, June 11, it appeared that a number of demonstrators were unable or unwilling to alter their plans to converge on Terre Haute for this day. I have no firm estimate for the number here today, but I believe there were a couple of dozen in favor of capital punishment and possibly 200 who were opposed to the death penalty. Clearly these numbers were considerably lower than originally expected. There is an enormous field that surrounds the prison -- there were large areas marked off for demonstrators. Based on what I could see, there was no way the amount of demonstrators I saw would have come close to filling these areas.
Q: Many expected the McVeigh execution to crystallize the debate on the death penalty, but that does not seem to be the case. What is your sense about this from talking with people -- news media, demonstrators, prison officials -- in Terre Haute and the families of victims?
A: This is one of the most high profile executions the world has ever seen. Contrary to what others may believe, I feel the death penalty issue has been focused much more as a result of McVeigh's execution. Whether this moves the ball on this topic into one field or another is unclear. What is clear is that more people were talking about the issue and expressed their feelings regarding capital punishment.
I know the reaction is rather mixed and, at best, lukewarm in European capitals toward the U.S. view of the death penalty, but today's events only focused -- at least for a time -- more attention on the topic.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: What is interesting also about the media coverage for this execution is that the federal penitentiary here in Terre Haute has 1,300 inmates, yet there were more than 1,400 media reporters who came here to cover this story. As I mentioned earlier, a good number of those people are now packing up and leaving. I had remarked when I first arrived here that covering this story was a lot like covering the military: You are told what will happen, when it will happen, and who will be involved -- there was very little new news here to uncover. But given the tragedy six years ago, clearly this was a story we had to cover.
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