September 20, 1999
The recent rash of school shootings makes Gibson’s heartbreaking book as timely as it is good. Shortly before Christmas in 1992, an alientated, angry student named Wayne Lo went on a shooting rampage at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts, wounding four people and killing two, one of whom was Gibson’s 18-year-old son, Galen. While grieving, Gibson embarked on what he calls a “walkabout,” a search for the truth about his son’s death. “I would concentrate on the details, the facts, and trust that their greater meaning would emerge, of its own accord, in the end. It never occurred to me to doubt that there was a greater meaning.” At first, there was Lo’s trial to occupy him, followed by a civil suit against the college. Gibson writes honestly about the rage that consumed him for the first few years after Galen’s death. In a remarkable chapter, he describes a conversation with Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, which owns Simon’s Rock, in which he realized that assigning blame would serve no practical or spiritual purpose. Not that human fallibility didn’t play a huge role in Galen’s death: Gibson makes a compelling argument that Simon’s Rock administrators had more than enough warning signs to prevent the tragedy. Lo’s high-school teachers knew he was troubled. So did his college teachers. And his college friends and administrators knew he had a gun and ammunition. What makes this book special, and what distinguishes it from the blizzard of 30-second explanations and 800-word op-ed pieces on teen violence, is the way in which Gibson transcends his rage and becomes capable of mounting a searching, informative and ultimately deeply moving exploration into the combination of causality and randomness that surrounds his son’s death.