This StoryCorps conversation was one that was difficult to have, and for some, will be hard to hear. It happened at a prison, where a father sat down to talk with the school shooter who killed his son.
On December 14, 1992, Wayne Lo, an 18-year-old student at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts, stalked the campus with an SKS semiautomatic rifle loaded with ammunition he ordered over the phone and had delivered to him at school. He fired at random, killing two people and wounding four others. At the time, he said he was receiving commands from God. Today, Wayne is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Greg Gibson’s son Galen, also a student at Simon’s Rock, was murdered that night. In the years since, Gibson has set out to understand how it happened, in the hopes of preventing anyone else from having to live through what he has. He interviewed other people involved in the shooting — victims and their families, school officials, even the man who sold Lo the gun. He later put those conversations into a book, Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder.
Then, after it was published, Gibson started getting letters from the one person he hadn’t talked to: Wayne Lo.
As the 25th anniversary of the shooting approached, Gibson visited Lo in prison for a StoryCorps interview. Gibson said he wasn’t looking to forgive him or to find closure, but just to look Lo in the eye and talk. It was the first time they had ever spoken.
In the introduction to his book, Greg writes about his often complicated journey:
But what about this matter of moving on, and the healing and forgiveness it implies? There’s a lot of grand-sounding mumbo jumbo in circulation, but I’ve never read book or seen a talk show that can explain the mystery of a person making a conscious decision not to be defined by a Bad Thing, and simply living life from that point on, day-by-day. Then the Bad Thing becomes just a part of a life, and when we look around at other people we discover that most of them have experienced bad things too, and have made similar decisions. Survival is the rule, not the exception, and I can’t understand the “why” of it any more than I can understand why a cut heals over.
The idea of forgiveness is a greater mystery still—one I’ll spend the rest of my life attempting to unravel. As it happens, I’ve got a helper in this endeavor, a strange sort of sidekick. His name is Wayne Lo and he’s the man who murdered my son.
Wayne writes to me a few times a year, usually with a small check, which I deposit in the Galen Gibson Scholarship Trust. He earns the money by selling his artwork on the internet. This made the news for a moment in the spring of 2007 when a zealous fellow down in Houston realized that murderers were cashing in on their crimes. He coined the term “murderabilia” and decided to put an end to this practice.
Media people contacted me for an opinion, expecting some juicy murdered-son outrage. I opined that donating money to a scholarship fund in Galen’s name was one of the ways that Wayne Lo, locked in prison for the rest of his life, could try to atone for what he’d done. Society, I told them, has been very efficient about punishment, but backward about reconciliation and rehabilitation. This was not the answer they wanted to hear, so it didn’t make the news…
…There are endless branches on this journey, and no two people’s experiences are ever the same. I hear a lot about what I “ought” to be doing and feeling and, as was the case with the “murderabilia” issue, I am often confronted by people who expect me to feel a certain way when, in fact, I do not feel that way at all.
Much of the time, I realize that what I’m really dealing with are people’s own fears or their overwhelming desire to normalize what for them must be an unthinkable situation. What is there to do but try to be honest with them, and keep on moving? If I’ve learned anything since Galen’s death, it is simply to follow my heart, regardless of the expectations that surround me.
That, as much as anything else, is what this book is about.
From Gone Boy by Gregory Gibson. Published by North Atlantic Books, copyright © 2011 by Gregory Gibson. Reprinted by permission of publisher.
Originally aired December 8, 2017, on NPR’s Morning Edition.