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A father reminds us, we've been here before

Posted by BJ Roche  December 16, 2012 10:27 AM

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It's hard to believe now that there was a time when the word "shooting" or "rampage" rarely appeared in the same sentence as "school."

It was before December 14, 1992, when a student named Wayne Lo went on a rampage at Simon's Rock of Bard College in Great Barrington, severely injuring several people and killing two, including 18-year-old Galen Gibson of Gloucester. The death toll might have been higher if his rifle had not jammed.

During the trial, reporters and jurors retraced the route Lo took that night, from the guard shack at the edge of campus to the library foyer where Galen was gunned down, one more random victim. It was tough stuff. But the most emotional moments came at the trial's end, when families of the victims read their impact statements to the court.

The most eloquent of those words that day came from Galen's father, Greg Gibson. Over the past 20 years, Gibson has written toughly and elegantly about our crazy gun culture and violence from the perspective of a parent who has suffered an unfathomable loss. Through his book, Gone Boy: A Father's Search for the Truth in his Son's Murder, interviews, and essays, he conveys what happens after the cameras have left town and the struggle to figure out why.

What we learned at Lo's trial is what can happen when a lonely, unstable adolescent has easy access to a gun and ammo. But as a nation, we seem to have done remarkably little about it.

I thought of Gibson when I heard about the Connecticut shootings, and realized that it was 20 years later, to the day. Unfortunately he's had many opportunities to comment on school shootings. I put some of them together here.

This New York Times piece, part of a 2000 series about "rampage killers," details Gibson's experiences in communicating with, and trying to understand, his son's killer.

But nobody gets off the hook with Gibson, including himself. Gibson wrote this piece, called "Our Violent Inner Landscape," after the Columbine shootings in 1999.

I've got a feeling this problem is embedded in our culture, way beyond bad movies and cheap guns. It is as transparent as the air we breathe. It's in our history. It's in the myths we tell ourselves about ourselves. If we see it at all, we celebrate it. We relax to it. We've made industries of it.

On Amazon's book review page, Gibson critiques what he calls the school-shooting "porn," inherent in Howard Fast's "Ceremonial Violence: Understanding Columbine and Other School Rampage Shootings."

I researched my account of the Simon's Rock shootings from 1992 to 1999, and by the end of my work I probably knew as much as any layman about such events. I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is nothing in Dr. Jonathan Fast's book that adds materially to what we knew about school shootings and their causes in 2000. School shooters were bullied. Many may have suffered abuse. They were unhappy kids who felt themselves to be outcasts. A not-surprising number of them wore thick glasses or dressed in black. They were all narcissists - "Drama Queens" (Dr. Fast's term) - and they all exhibited suicidal ideation. Fast's theory proposes a scenario in which "the candidate gets the idea of turning his suicide into a public ceremony." He lays this theory out in three pages in his Introduction, and then we're off to the races. Thirteen "SR" shootings later we've had about as much as we can handle. "I was raised in a family of storytellers," Fast tells us (he's the son of novelist Howard Fast). Perhaps he means it as a warning. There isn't much here except the stories, and the stories are unrelievedly, hair-raisingly grotesque.

On the day after the Connecticut shootings, he published this New York Times op-ed piece.

In the wake of Galen’s murder, I wrote a book about the shooting. In it I suggested that we view gun crime as a public health issue, much the same as smoking or pesticides. I spent a number of years attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, but eventually I gave up. Gun control, such a live issue in the “early” days of school shootings, inexplicably became a third-rail issue for politicians.

And this from a blog post on Fast's book, that also laments the public fascination with school shootings:

In 2007, when the reporters wanted me to talk about "murderabilia," I asked them where they were when I wanted to talk about how easy it was for crazy people to get guns in America.

They had no answer for that one.

We still don't.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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