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American RadioWorksDocumentariesAmericaKay Fulton's Diary


This version of Kay Fulton's story was produced for the BBC program Crossing Continents.

The Limits of Mercy Listen(Real Audio, 27:33 min)

Originally an American public radio report, it is the story of Kay Fulton, whose older brother, Paul Ice, was one of 168 people killed seven years ago by Timothy McVeigh, the former American Army Infantryman who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At the time, it was the biggest act of terrorism ever experienced on American soil. Stephen Smith reports.

America's Heartland

I'm boating along the backbone of America, the Mississippi River. This powerful, waterway flows through 10 states of America's heartland, beginning here in Minnesota and emptying into the Gulf of Mexico at New Orleans.

I've stopped here at Red Wing, Minnesota—about 50 miles south of Minneapolis. This is the kind of Mississippi river town that Mark Twain wrote about, a place of wide residential streets shaded by a canopy of oaks, built amidst the forested bluffs and rich farmland, and named for a famous Indian chief. People who live in midwestern communities like Red Wing, population 16,000 like to claim many of the virtues Americans associate with their small-town ancestry. Many choose small towns because they still don't have to lock their doors at night. There is a sense of safety and remove from the corrupt and dangerous world. But not at Kay Fulton's place.

Kay's modest white house is up the hill from Main Street, just behind the county court house. It is well protected by two angry-sounding dogs: Muffin and Spot. Kay would seem to fit right in, and she does. She's in her early 40s, with carefully coiffed hair, large brown eyes and a sunny yellow dress. She describes herself as a typical, down-to-earth Midwesterner who works part time in a local sandwich shop. But almost no one in Red Wing knows how different Kay's life really is.

"This is a very small midwestern town," explains Kay. "People are born here, they get married here, and they die here. When you read the obituaries, you know—'He was 89 years old, he went to Red Wing High School'—they stay put. They're a very nice, good group of people, but not very worldly. I'm very anonymous here."

Kay was one of ten relatives of the Oklahoma City bombing victims selected to watch Timothy McVeigh die by lethal injection. Perhaps naturally, Kay Fulton favored the death penalty. So do most Americans. But most listeners to public radio do not. For months before and after the execution in June 2001, Kay kept an audio diary to chronicle the life of a woman who supports the death penalty, for exceedingly personal reasons.

The Museum

Once we made it past Muffin and Spot, Kay led me upstairs to the guestroom, a place given over to the most prominent visitor in Kay's life— the memory of her brother Paul Ice. Paul was a former Marine pilot and a U.S. Customs Agent in Oklahoma City.

"I call it the museum," explains Kay, "it's my memories of Paul and some of the things—pictures and things—that he had collected, some items pertaining to the bombing."

Over here, is this his flight helmet?

"Yes, this was his," answers Kay, "the USMC, United States Marine Corps. It has 'Iceman' on it. Iceman was his flying moniker in the Marines. I also have his flight suit," she laughs, "and it is sitting on top of, I don't even know if I should mention this…"

A slot machine!

"The slot machine was actually something confiscated in a bust that he was part of," she explains. "This is a recorder I found shortly after the bombing, that Paul was making a tape of during a surveillance he was on."

Paul's voice on recording: "It's 9:45 p.m. Monday night, January 13, 1992. We're surveillance…OK, we're driving by Shivvers' house one more time. The Mercedes I believe is boy-papa-papa 5-3-Romeo."

"It's not a real good quality tape," admits Kay, "but it's the only recording I have of his voice."

Paul's voice on recording: "There's also a pickup that a man had the door open…"

He was just 42 years old," says Kay, "and very accomplished. He was a marathon runner; he was a pilot with his own plane. He was a Senior Special Agent with U.S. Customs, and his entire adult life was spent in the service of his country, so I didn't just lose a brother but you lost someone also.

April 19th

TV News Anchor: "An explosion, apparently caused by a bomb, blew off one side of a federal office building this morning."

Second TV News Anchor: "The death count is still mounting, more than a hundred people injured, many of the casualties were children."

On April 19, 1995, a 26-year-old former U.S. Army Infantryman parked a rented truck packed with explosives in front of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Timothy McVeigh got out and walked away. The nine-story building housed government agencies of all kinds, including the U.S. Customs Service, where Paul Ice worked. McVeigh belonged to a loose confederation of political extremists who see the U.S. government as evil. To him, it made perfect sense that employees of—say, the U.S. Department of Agriculture—were legitimate targets in war for freedom. And, to his thinking, the 19 children playing in the daycare center, well, they were collateral damage.

"This is where I used to work," explains Kay, "and this is where I came the morning seven years ago… I get teary."

On that April morning, Kay Fulton was a few blocks down the street starting another unremarkable day as a secretary for a building management firm. She was standing near a window.

"We're on the 26th floor, downtown Oklahoma City. We're about 3 blocks to the south side of what was the back side of the Murrah Building."

And this is where you…?

"This is where I was working, that morning," says Kay. "And the blast was so hard, even these three blocks away, that I fell, because I was actually at the window when it happened."

When disaster strikes, some people reflexively fear the worst. But Kay was an optimistic person. She hoped that Paul was out on assignment that morning, or had maybe worked a stake out the night before and was still safely home in bed.

"It didn't sink in," says Kay. "This bad stuff does not happen to our family, and it certainly does not happen to Oklahoma City. So it just was not sinking in. So, somewhere in the course of this first hour, I called my mother and said, 'have you talked to Paul?' And our family was always—if there's a fire somewhere, you don't go out and look at it, you stay out of the way, and you let the people do their job. So, when I asked mother if she'd called Paul, she said, 'oh no, we don't want to bother him; we know he's busy down there. Something big has happened in Oklahoma City, we don't know what it is."

After the Bombing

Kay's family found out what happened to Paul eight days later, when his body was pulled from the rubble. Paul's death took over Kay's life. She grew deeply involved with the other families of the bombing victims. She walked the halls of Congress in Washington to lobby for new anti-terrorism laws, she appeared on all kinds of national TV shows, she even joined a delegation to a village in Cameroon to counsel the victims of a natural disaster there. Kay's family life suffered—she grew estranged from her three sisters. And that's the one subject in all this she finds too personal to talk about.

But good things happened too. Kay met a sweet, quiet man named Jim on the Internet. They got married and moved here to Red Wing, Minnesota, where Jim had a new job as a salesman at a foundry. It was a fresh start, almost. During this same time, Timothy McVeigh was on death row, appealing his verdict. Kay followed the proceedings closely, waiting for justice.

TV News recording: "A Denver jury has found Timothy McVeigh found guilty on all eleven counts in the Oklahoma City bombing case."

At the time, sixty percent of Americans supported the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh. Kay Fulton was one of them, although before McVeigh murdered her brother, Kay didn't have really strong feelings on capital punishment.

Winning the Lottery

"I personally always thought life imprisonment would be the consummate penalty for some horrific crime," she explains. "Lethal injection is really so humane—I mean you just go to sleep. And it's just so fast! But now I've changed my mind about the death penalty. And I want—and I need to know—that Tim McVeigh is going to face those few moments of extreme and utter fear and terror. That's something that in a lifetime of imprisonment they're never subjected to. If he— for just that split second—McVeigh just turns inside out with fear then, maybe this is the right thing.

TV Anchor: "Good evening. A week from tomorrow one of this country's most hated criminals will be put to death."

Second TV Anchor: "A Red Wing woman will be among the few selected to watch the historic and controversial event."

Executions in the United States are typically observed by a selected group of witnesses, often including relatives of the victims. Kay submitted her name and was one of ten family members, chosen by lottery, to watch Timothy McVeigh die.

"I got the call, I think it was on Wednesday the 18th, I won a seat to view the execution and I was so thrilled," remembers Kay.

TV Reporter: "For 6 years she has worked to keep McVeigh out of her thoughts, not to let him into her head."

Second TV Reporter "Would it mean anything to you if he said he was sorry at this point?"

Kay (on TV): "Ask me that afterwards."

TV Reporter: "Next Wednesday, Kay Fulton will be among a select few to watch Timothy McVeigh receive a lethal injection in this chamber at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana."

McVeigh would be executed in Terra Haute, Indiana, about 150 miles southeast of Chicago, and a full day's travel from Red Wing. Kay took along a small audio recorder to keep notes about the trip.

"I am somewhere in between Chicago and Indianapolis," describes Kay on the tape recording. "It's late, it's dark and everybody on the train is asleep so I am trying to be really quiet.

"Choosing the train has been the right choice for me because I have really had the chance to just calm down. I think tomorrow when I get up—then I can face just what it is I am getting ready to walk into—but now it's just kind of nice, just this quiet sound of the train, and then there is a guy snoring next to me!" she laughs.

TV Reporter: "We met up with Kay Fulton on the banks of Terre Haute's Wabash River, a safe two miles from the media onslaught at the federal prison where tomorrow morning she will witness the execution…"

"It's Sunday, about 10 o'clock and I am with Boyd Huppert with Channel 11 KARE," records Kay, "and we are getting ready to do an interview. Here we go. Is it OK if I keep my sunglasses on? Cause I'll be squinting really badly."

TV News Anchor: "Death penalty advocates and opponents are demonstrating here on the grounds."

TV Reporter: It's a relatively small group, about 200 death penalty opponents from around the country who are gathered here in this corral on the edge of the prison."

Security at the execution was tight. Witnesses spent the night at a secret hotel. They were driven in vans with blacked-out windows. Against the rules, Kay smuggled a picture of Paul into the viewing chamber. It showed him giving the pilot's thumbs-up sign.

Warden's voice: "I am Harley Lappen, the warden here at the United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute. Timothy James McVeigh has been executed by lethal injection. He was pronounced dead at 7:14 a.m. Central Daylight Time. McVeigh's body will be released to a representative of his family."

A Great Cloud Lifted

"Hi, it is Monday 8 a.m. It's just an hour after the execution and it is over with," records Kay. "I am just on my way over to the media area to do some interviews. But um, you know, actually I feel really good, there's been a great cloud lifted. I'm just so relieved, there's such a weight lifted. Talk to you later, bye."

Kay was one of the few family members willing to talk about watching the execution, so she got swept into a media maelstrom.

TV Reporter: "Bryant, Kay Fulton just witnessed Timothy McVeigh's execution in person…"

Second Reporter: "Kay never missed a chance to mention Paul as she was guided from one network morning show to the next…"

Third Reporter: "What about your brother, Kay? Would he have wanted you to watch this?"

Kay (on TV): "You know, I don't know…we never discussed the death penalty. I hope in my heart…"

TV Reporter: "President Bush is expected to make a statement at any time now."

TV Anchor: "…the final words from the poem that Timothy McVeigh read this morning, 'I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul.' Timothy McVeigh, dead this morning, 7:14 this morning. The Early Show continues after this."

"Hi, it's still Tuesday. I am in the car. I am driving from Terre Haute back to Indianapolis to get home," explains Kay, "but I wanted—as early as I could—to tell you about the actual execution and then try to talk to you about emotionally what's been going on.

"When I saw him, I was really taken aback. You know, for 6 years, the pictures I have seen of him…You know, he's a cocky arrogant—I'm sorry, he was— a cocky, arrogant, you know, strong-looking tanned, proud, defiant and when they opened that curtain and I saw him, it didn't even look like the same person. He was gaunt, but it was his color—he was just pasty looking, his head was almost shaved. After the 2nd drug was introduced—the one that slows the breathing—I saw the little puff of air come out of his mouth and I like to think I watched him take his last breath.

"Here goes a truck….hold on.

"During the execution," Kay continues, "I took my picture of Paul and since I was in front, I was able to put Paul's picture right up against the glass, symbolically it was a way for me to let my brother watch his murderer die and I don't know if that's anything Paul would have wanted and (voice breaks) I don't know—I don't know—I hope I did the right thing for him.

McVeigh was dead and Kay Fulton was at last home here in Red Wing, determined to move on. She wanted to re-start her life simply, so she got a part-time job just down the street here at a sandwich shop. None of her co-workers seemed to know who Kay was, which suited her fine. Now, maybe, her life could begin again.

Another Tragedy

TV News Anchor: "Today, September 11, 2001…"

Frantic woman's voice (on recording): "Suddenly we heard a big bang and then we saw smoke coming out…"

Reporter: "the height of the Pentagon is gone…"

President Bush: "The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible…"

A stunned America watched endless reruns of the hijacked airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. People posted American flags in shop windows, on front lawns and on bumper stickers. Money poured in to relief funds. President George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism, and most Americans wanted action. Kay Fulton reacted to the September 11th attacks as a victim of earlier terrorism, and her impulse was to seek out the families like hers in New York. The Red Cross assigned volunteers from Oklahoma City to escort the New York families as they made the difficult journey down to ground zero. Because of snarled transport systems, the families arrived in lower Manhattan by ferry. Kay found herself part of the throng.

Connecting with September 11th Families

"We took a ferry ride down to ground zero," Kay records. "There were usually about 50 family members. There were counselors, and spiritual counselors, oh, and the therapy dogs, which were just wonderful. Some people just don't want to talk to people about this, but they can always give a puppy a snuggle. It was a very calming experience. After that they would announce that there were two family members who had lost family members in the Oklahoma City bombing. Several of them would approach us. There was such a nice bond—a sad bond— but just to have someone there who's been in a similar position. It's somehow comforting."

Over the months, Kay stayed in touch with several New York family members. One of them was Anthony Gardener, a 26-year-old public relations worker who lost his brother, Harvey, in the World Trade Center. Anthony helped establish a kind of exchange program between the victims of terrorism in New York and Oklahoma City. In March, Kay was back in Manhattan.

Anthony: "I want to thank you for coming all this way. This is great. Here we are—one family sitting down for Sunday dinner. Hopefully we'll have many more. Cheers."

"We're having dinner at John's pizza in Manhattan," Kay explains. "One of the topics that came up during the dinner was the compensation fund that some of the families are being offered, and Anthony certainly had a few words to say about that."

Anthony: "The wrong information was out there. The press kept saying that every family was going to get $1.65 million. We were getting hate mail. I had a woman who told me to go f-myself, that my brother would be ashamed of me."

NY Woman: "And these again, these are people who, they're not families themselves."

2nd NY Woman: "They're just outside people."

Anthony: "They don't get it!"

As veterans of such a public form of victimization, the Oklahoma City people offered the New Yorkers sympathy and advice. The Oklahomans had learned how to deal with the national media—and how to appeal for help. Anthony wanted to raise the money to fly New York families to Oklahoma City for the anniversary of that bombing the following month. Kay helped strategize.

Anthony: "I want us to be the September 11 family ambassadors."

"I just, I can't believe that we can't somehow find big money people in New York," says Kay, "who would surely want to help you."

Anthony: "There's got to be people who would like— for the sheer publicity of it—people already want to do a story on us being there.

Kay (on answering machine): "Thank you for calling on this anniversary of my brother's murder. Please know how much your thoughts and support have meant to me and my parents. Your kind message will be most valued."

The Remembrance Ceremony

TV Reporter: "Several families from New York City traveled here to Oklahoma to be part of the shared experience."

There is a remembrance ceremony every April 19th in Oklahoma City. The city block that was once the federal building is now a national memorial park. Two monolithic stone archways stand where the front and back entrances were carved—on one is the time (9:01 a.m.) the moment before the bombing , the other (9:03 a.m.) the moment after. Inside, a field of stone and glass chairs, all empty, bear the names of each victim.

Woman speaker: " For us in Oklahoma City, it has been 7 years. For others it has just been 7 months since the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the downed flight in Shanksville, Pennsylvania."

Male speaker: "On September 11th, all of us came to realize that the attack that took place here was the first, but unfortunately not the last of what will be a long war against terrorism."

Male speaker: "The United States Customs Service will always remember Claude Arthur Medeiros and Paul D. Ice."

"Some point during the day it hit me, Tim McVeigh portrayed himself as a patriot," remembers Kay. "If Sept 11th had happened before April 19, 1995, if he had witnessed what had happened to our country, I wonder if he might have used his anger or restlessness or whatever you would call it, to maybe go fight the terrorists instead of focusing on his own fellow citizens."

Kay Fulton says this 7th Anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing may be the last one she attends for a long while. With the victims of September 11th, so much in the foreground of national attention, Kay's public life as a victim of terrorism gets a little quieter.

Conclusion

So we broadcast this documentary about you on public radio stations across the country. Millions of people heard it. What kind of reaction did you get?

"None, actually. Again, in this small town—I know people in Red Wing listen. " Kay laughs, "I'm sure somebody in Red Wing must listen to public radio. But the few people that I know here don't even know that I worked on the project."

Back home in Red Wing, Minnesota, Kay returns to the pleasures of routine, of keeping house with her husband: baking cookies, walking the dogs. Still, every day of her life is a memorial, of sorts, to her brother Paul. The stairs always lead to that second-floor room she calls the Museum.

If Paul were still alive, do you think you would be, in a way, as close to him as you are to him in death? By that I mean, people tend to take each other for granted.

"Very much. Yes, I think it is a deeper relationship…very different, yeah."

The other thing I think that this room evokes is the prominence that this event, both Paul's death and the fact of Oklahoma City, the prominence that that has in your life. In a way over the last, how many years has it been?

"Seven"

Over the last seven years— it's been kind of an organizing principle of your life. Are you ever concerned that it occupies too prominent a place?

"Yes, I do," says Kay. "It's overwhelming. I really hate what it's done to my life. It's consumed it. And not for the good."

What could you do now that would reduce this overwhelming prominence in your life?

"I have no idea. I wish somebody could tell me. I don't know. I think it lessens, I think time helps. But, I mean, seven years of your life consumed with this, it's just too much," Kay answers. "Before it really was a perfect life. I mean a good, strong, happy, healthy family. But I always knew that, and I did think often about how lucky I was."

You were lucky, you felt blessed and you knew it. Do you still feel blessed?

"No. I don't. Just this one instance. How one or two or however many people could just alter the lives of so many others. It's so hard to comprehend. Again, I just felt so lucky before, and all that goodness was just taken away, so quickly."