Gregory Gibson started out investigating the murder of his son. He came away with a story that rivals Mailer’s best fiction.
When someone breaks down and starts shooting people, there is often a burst of media attention until the public interest moves on to the next story – even if the next story is another “shooting spree.” What happens to the people involved in the first story, while we are reading about the second one? What happens to them after that? Gregory Gibson, a Gloucester book dealer, is the father of a boy shot and killed at Simon’s Rock College, in Great Barrington, on December 14, 1992, when a fellow student named Wayne Lo went berserk.
A year after the shooting, Gibson began a series of personal investigations. In each phase he made significant discoveries, and each of his discoveries would have provided meaning to his quest and material for a book. But at each discovery Gibson goes almost immediately beyond his new certainty and begins again. Where this agnostic who drinks too much finds the spiritual capacity to keep growing is the real mystery that propels the book.
The college administration, the gun laws, the gun culture are not without blame, but Gibson does not tie packages with neat little knots – and this leads him to much larger packages.
Having already found the dealer of the used gun – a polite, thoughtful man – Gibson now locates a previous owner, who turns out to be a raving Second Amendment extremist, but also thoughtful and helpful. Helpful? Gibson is concerned with details of the gun’s operation, and why Wayne Lo had trouble with the modified magazine. He is going to buy an SKS from the same shoddy Chinese armory, buy the same modification kit and plastic magazines, test-fire… No, he isn’t. The gun is what it is. He moves on to Wayne Lo’s friends.
Pretty soon Gibson has a conspiracy theory. Someone – “my own John Doe”- shopped with Wayne for guns, maybe helped him modify the weapon, maybe knew what he was planning. Gibson has witnesses, he has a name, he knows this student also owned an SKS… But no. Gibson talks to Wayne’s friends, and they are as damaged as the survivors, guilt ridden – and when he knows enough about his John Doe, it’s enough.
It’s on to Wayne Lo. By now we know Gibson well enough to know he won’t waste time with the prosecution psychiatrists he rooted for at the trial; it’s the expert defense psychiatrists he will see. He sees them all. They still don’t agree, and yet Gibson comes away with a complete view of Wayne Lo’s madness. The troubled background of the shooter is Gibson’s last line of investigation. And so he spends a weekend with Wayne Lo’s parents.
Gregory Gibson is a fine writer whose work rivals the subtleties of Norman Mailer’s best fiction. He is a wonderful reporter. But his spiritual strength and openness through his ordeal is why, as Gibson says, “the story redeems the experience.”