Gregory Gibson and I met 36 years ago as freshmen at Swarthmore College. Greg was 18, the same age his elder son Galen had reached in 1992 when he was slaughtered in an act of senseless violence. Galen was in his second year at Simon's Rock College in Great Barrington, Mass., when a fellow student named Wayne Lo went berserk and shot up the campus with a cheap imported rifle, killing Galen and a teacher and wounding four others. Ever since then, Greg has struggled to wrest some meaning from this tragedy, and I think he has succeeded. His powerful book about Galen's murder, Gone Boy: A Walkabout, will be published this week. It is must reading for everyone troubled by the epidemic of shootings, such as the recent one in Fort Worth, Texas, that have left so many teenagers dead. It is especially challenging for those who oppose stricter gun control.
For Greg, a dealer of nautical books in Gloucester, Mass., delving into every detail about how Galen died was a way of coping with grief. His seven-year-long investigation became, he writes, "a single thread of purpose in my life. It had kept me from winding up in a detox ward, or from jumping off a bridge, or from shooting someone myself, while I healed." He debriefed everyone, from the psychiatrists to whom Lo described the inner voice that told him "it is time" to start shooting, to the gun dealer who sold Lo the Chinese-made semiautomatic SKS rifle, to the Simon's Rock College officials who failed to detain Lo even after they were warned that he had a gun. The result is a tapestry of shared pain and guilt in which everyone, including the killer, is in some sense a victim.
Of the many disturbing episodes in Gone Boy, one stands out: Greg's moving account of how he and his wife Anne Marie sat down to discuss the case with the killer's parents, C.W. Lo and his wife Lin Lin, immigrants from Taiwan who had established a successful restaurant in Billings, Mont. When his parents visited Wayne in the Massachusetts prison where he is serving a life sentence for murder, Lin Lin recalled, he would rock in his chair "slowly, back and forth, almost as if he were nodding." When she asked him why, Wayne explained that most people who tried to talk to him had nothing useful to say. "I move like this because it looks like I listen to them, but I don't have to listen," he told her. "So I tell him, 'Well, you stop that, Wayne. You no need to move like that when I talk,'" she continued. "So he stop for a few minutes maybe, and then he start again." It occurred to Greg, as he heard this bizarre story, that "it was not Galen, always so much with us, but this other, stolen, rocking creature who truly was the gone boy." None of this would have happened if Wayne Lo, at the age of 18, had not been able to walk into a gun store, flash his driveršs license and $129 and walk out with a deadly weapon. Or if he had not been able to have 200 bullets sent to him at Simonšs Rock College by a mail-order arms company. To my friend Greg, there is a straightforward conclusion to be drawn from the mystery of Galen's death. "We've just got too many guns in this country. Wešve got to get rid of them." Anyone who reads Gone Boy will find it hard to disagree.