MARIA HINOJOSA: Welcome to Need to Know. Thanks for joining us. It’s good to be with you. America’s mass killings are so well-known by now that it only takes a word or two to describe them. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Newtown. But, of course, gun violence in America does not end there. Thousands of other fatal shootings occur each year. And many of those barely get any attention at all. This week, as part of PBS’ special “After Newtown” coverage, “Need to Know” looks at one such incident. It occurred just 70 miles from Newtown, on the other side of the Connecticut-Massachusetts border. Though it happened 20 years to the day before Newtown, and though far fewer people were killed, the pain that “smaller incident” caused never quite goes away.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE TO DOCUMENT A MURDER. AN ACT OF VIOLENCE THAT TOOK PLACE MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO. ONE THAT PROFOUNDLY AFFECTED THE LIVES OF DOZENS OF PEOPLE WHO LIVE THROUGH IT, INCLUDING, GREG GIBSON.
GREG GIBSON: The agony box. What’s this? This is the lady that was shot up in the guard shack.
MARIA HINOJOSA: A lot of people once they experience something like this also make a decision of “I don’t want to know a lot. My child is gone. Horrible. And I don’t want to know.” You did the opposite. You said, “I want to know everything.”
GREG GIBSON: Yeah. Somehow it was just my nature to, okay, I- I’m going to deal with this by finding out everything I can about it.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: IT HAPPENED ON DECEMBER 14, 1992, AT THE TINY BARD COLLEGE AT SIMON’S ROCK, A SPECIALIZED SCHOOL FOR KIDS WHO LEAVE HIGH SCHOOL EARLY. THE COLLEGE IS LOCATED IN THE QUIET BERKSHIRE MOUNTAINS OF WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS. BUT THAT NIGHT, JUST BEFORE 10:30 …
KAREN BEAUMONT: I heard these firecrackers. Or what I thought were firecrackers. And I remember just, you know, going, “Oh, those crazy kids.”
JOSH FABER: And then all of a sudden, uh- gigantic explosion, um- It’s kind of like the world just jumps off axis.
JOAN DELPLATO: I got a really disturbing phone call from a friend. Ñacuñán has been shot. Galen has been shot. I couldn’t use rationality to understand it. It was happening on another level of irrationality. It was- it was- it was horror.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: A SOPHOMORE NAMED WAYNE LO, WHO EARLIER HAD THREATENED STAFF, HAD ALSO PURCHASED A SEMI-AUTOMATIC RIFLE. THAT NIGHT, CONVINCED THAT GOD HAD COMMANDED HIM TO COMMIT MURDER, THE 18-YEAR-OLD WANDERED THE WOODED CAMPUS SHOOTING AT RANDOM. HE WOUNDED FOUR PEOPLE, INCLUDING A SECURITY GUARD, AND KILLED TWO MORE: A 37-YEAR-OLD PROFESSOR, NACUNAN SAEZ, AND AN 18-YEAR OLD STUDENT, GALEN GIBSON…GREG GIBSON’S SON. GALEN HAD BEEN STUDYING IN THE LIBRARY WHEN THE GUNFIRE ERUPTED. WHEN HE RAN OUT TO HELP, LO SHOT HIM TWICE.
LOCAL TV SOT: Officials say Wayne Lo had no prior record…
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: THE RAMPAGE MADE NEWS ACROSS THE NATION – A “SCHOOL SHOOTING” BEFORE THAT BECAME A COMMON TERM. THE ENTIRE INCIDENT LASTED ONLY 20 MINUTES. BUT THE DAMAGE HAS REVERBERATED FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS.
GREG GIBSON: So that’s Galen’s stone right there
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: GALEN IS BURIED JUST DOWN THE STREET FROM THE GIBSONS’ HOME, IN GLOUCESTER, MASSACHUSETTS – ABOUT 40 MILES NORTH OF BOSTON. HE LEFT BEHIND HIS PARENTS, A TEENAGE BROTHER AND A 9-YEAR-OLD SISTER. GALEN’S DAD GREG, A RARE BOOKS DEALER, SAYS ALL THESE YEARS LATER, FRIENDS ARE STILL LEAVING MEMENTOS AT GALEN’S GRAVE.
GREG GIBSON: Here’s a can of Moxie – that was a sort of cult drink that the kids all drank. Every Christmas time we all come down here and um put a little Christmas tree on the grave which is what we were doing when we came back and found out about Newtown.
MARIA HINOJOSA: So, so you actually had just left the cemetery, commemorating the 20th anniversary of your son’s murder. And you find out about the shootings in Newtown?
GREG GIBSON: Yeah. Um- We were walking back. And you know, our first thought wasn’t the irony of the fact that on this 20th anniversary this happened. Our feelings flew to where those people were, instinctively. Because we knew what had happened to them in a- in a way that, god forbid, anybody else should have to know again. But we knew that. You want so desperately, desperately, desperately to help, to make them better, to fix that. And you know at the same time from your own experience, you can’t. You can’t send teddy bears. You can’t send trees. You can’t send money. You can’t do anything. It’s just- it’s been done.
JOSH FABER: If there was one kind of defining moment of my existence, that’s basically it.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: JOSH FABER WAS A 15-YEAR-OLD FRESHMAN AT SIMON’S ROCK IN 1992 WHEN WAYNE LO STARTED SHOOTING THROUGH THE FRONT DOOR OF HIS DORM. FABER WAS SHOT TWICE IN THE LEGS, ONE BULLET NARROWLY MISSING HIS FEMORAL ARTERY WHICH COULD HAVE LED HIM TO BLEED OUT IN MINUTES.
JOSH FABER: Blood was gushing out of my legs. Um- And that’s kind of- that takes a second just to mentally be able to, uh- realize what’s going on.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: FABER SAYS THERE WERE NO WARNINGS – JUST THE DAY BEFORE, HE’D PLAYED FOOTBALL WITH WAYNE LO.
JOSH FABER: All of a sudden everything is different. All the assumptions you- you go under for your day to day life, all of a sudden are thrown out the window. One of the basic assumptions that you have is that you are not going to be shot in your dorm on a random Monday night. Within a second, now you’re wondering are you going to live or die that night.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: STILL RECOVERING, FABER RETURNED ON CRUTCHES TO A CAMPUS REELING FROM THE LOSS OF GALEN GIBSON AND BELOVED LANGUAGE PROFESSOR ÑACUÑÁN SÁEZ. TWENTY YEARS LATER, FACULTY REMEMBER BOTH OF THEM FONDLY. LITERATURE PROFESSOR PETER FILKINS WAS A FRIEND OF SÁEZ, AND A MENTOR TO GALEN.
PETER FILKINS: It just was a cutting irony in itself that these two particular gentle, warm-hearted, big-souled people were taken. People said, “How could this thing happen in a place like this?”
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: AS THE SCHOOL WAS GRAPPLING WITH THAT VERY QUESTION, SO WAS GREG GIBSON.
GREG GIBSON: Here I am, 5/8/96. There was no redemption and no peace.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: GRIPPED WITH GRIEF AND RAGE, GIBSON SET OUT TO FIND ANSWERS ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED THAT DAY … AND JUST MAYBE, SOME RELIEF FROM HIS PAIN. HE SPOKE TO EVERYONE HE COULD ABOUT THE CRIME, AND COLLECTED THOUSANDS OF COURT DOCUMENTS, PHOTOS, ARTICLES AND LETTERS.
GREG GIBSON: These were some of the people who were on the scene. Depositions. Memorial Service. Instructions for turning a regular gun into a killing weapon. There ya go!
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: GIBSON TURNED IT ALL INTO A BOOK CALLED “GONE BOY: A FATHER’S SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH IN HIS SON’S MURDER.” HE SAYS THAT SEARCH HELPED HIM DETERMINE NOT TO LET HIS SON’S DEATH DICTATE THE REST OF HIS LIFE.
GREG GIBSON: I ceased being a victim of my circumstance and I began reporting on it. Right? And you just become aware of what your situation is in a completely different way.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: BY THIS TIME, WAYNE LO HAD PLEADED NOT GUILTY, HIS LAWYERS MOUNTING AN INSANITY DEFENSE. BUT IN 1994 HE WAS CONVICTED AND SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE, WHICH HE’S NOW SERVING IN A PRISON OUTSIDE BOSTON.
WHEN GIBSON’S BOOK CAME OUT IN 1999 – THE SAME YEAR TWELVE STUDENTS AND A TEACHER WERE KILLED AT COLUMBINE — GIBSON RECEIVED A LETTER FROM WAYNE LO, WHO’D READ HIS BOOK…AND AN UNLIKELY CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE TWO BEGAN.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Most people would say, “You want to be in contact with the man who took your son away?”
GREG GIBSON: Yeah. That’s a little odd, isn’t it? I think my family feels that way. It’s, “what’s going on with him?”
MARIA HINOJOSA: They don’t want to-
GREG GIBSON: No. Who would? Well, I would for some reason. I don’t know why
MARIA HINOJOSA: Wayne Lo apologized for taking your son.
GREG GIBSON: Yeah.
MARIA HINOJOSA: You accept that apology?
GREG GIBSON: I don’t know what else I can do. Do I forgive him? I- I don’t know what that means. I don’t want to kill him back. But he’s sure not my buddy. I’m not hanging out with him. We have this language for coming to terms with and forgiving. We’ve got it all kind of laid down like this. And I just always thought that was- if it were that easy, if it were that simple, how lovely that would be. But I have not found it that simple at all. I found it complicated and-and again, as many ways to do it as there are people. So, in some weird way this conversation I’ve got with the man who murdered my son is a way that I can try to understand, you know, what happened, how I should go about this.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: PART OF WHAT GIBSON WAS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND WAS WHETHER WAYNE LO COULD HAVE BEEN STOPPED. LO HAD MAIL-ORDERED 200 ROUNDS OF AMMUNITION AND 30-ROUND MAGAZINES – SIMILAR TO THESE – FROM THIS GUN COMPANY IN NORTH CAROLINA…. ALL DELIVERED THE MORNING OF THE SHOOTING. SCHOOL OFFICIALS WERE WARNED ABOUT THE PACKAGE, BUT BY THE TIME THEY QUESTIONED LO AND SEARCHED HIS ROOM, HE LIED AND HID MOST OF THE CONTENTS.
LATER THAT DAY, LO TOOK A TAXI TO THIS NEARBY GUN STORE. BECAUSE HE WAS A MONTANA RESIDENT, A LOOPHOLE IN MASSACHUSETTS LAW MEANT HE DIDN’T NEED A PERMIT. SO HE WALKED OUT JUST A FEW MINUTES LATER WITH A GUN LIKE THIS: AN SKS SEMI-AUTOMATIC CARBINE.
GREG GIBSON: He- he’s told me, uh- more than once that the day he got that gun, the ease with which he got that gun was the worst thing that happened in his life.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: IN FACT, IN AN INTERVIEW WITH NEWSWEEK IN 2007 AFTER 32 PEOPLE WERE KILLED IN THE VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTINGS… WAYNE LO SAID: THE FACT THAT I WAS ABLE TO BUY A RIFLE IN 15 MINUTES, THAT’S ABSURD. I WAS 18. I COULDN’T HAVE RENTED A CAR TO DRIVE HOME FROM SCHOOL, YET I COULD PURCHASE A RIFLE. OBVIOUSLY A WAITING PERIOD WOULD BE GREAT. PERSONALLY, I ONLY HAD FIVE DAYS LEFT OF SCHOOL BEFORE WINTER BREAK … IF I HAD A TWO-WEEK WAITING PERIOD FOR THE GUN, I WOULDN’T HAVE DONE IT.” AND TODAY, NEARLY SIX YEARS AFTER THAT INTERVIEW, THERE’S STILL NO WAITING PERIOD FOR GUN PURCHASES IN MASSACHUSETTS AND MORE THAN 30 OTHER STATES.
GREG GIBSON: I mean, if the guy who killed these people realizes how horrible it was that he was able to get the stuff to help him do this… No, the guns didn’t kill them. He did. But the gun sure as hell helped. And it sure as hell was easy for him to get that gun.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: SO HAS ANYTHING CHANGED IN THE 20 YEARS SINCE THAT WOULD MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR SOMEONE LIKE WAYNE LO TO COMMIT THE SAME CRIME TODAY? FIVE YEARS AFTER THE SHOOTING AT SIMON’S ROCK, THE STATE CLOSED THE LOOPHOLE THAT ALLOWED LO TO BUY HIS GUN SO EASILY. IT ALSO PASSED A BAN ON ASSAULT WEAPONS AND HIGH CAPACITY MAGAZINES. TODAY, MASSACHUSETTS HAS THE LOWEST GUN DEATH RATE IN THE U.S.
BUT ONE REASON GUN CONTROL ADVOCATES BELIEVE MORE FEDERAL LEGISLATION IS NEEDED IS BECAUSE HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES SIMILAR TO WHAT WAYNE LO USED – AND ASSAULT WEAPONS - ARE STILL AVAILABLE IN NEIGHBORING VERMONT AND NEW HAMPSHIRE. AND THE NUMBER OF GUNS IN THE U.S. HAS SURGED ABOUT 60% SINCE LO PURCHASED HIS GUN THAT DAY.
GREG GIBSON: Good god almighty, there’s 300 million guns out there. I think that’ll do for now.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: FOR YEARS AFTER GALEN’S DEATH, GIBSON LOBBIED FOR TIGHTER GUN CONTROL LAWS.
GREG GIBSON: Wednesday. February 28, 1996. Do the math – 17 years. House outlaws 25 assault weapons. It’s worse now. That thing lapsed. And here we are again.
BUT HE SAYS HE’S NOT OPPOSED TO THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS. IN FACT, GIBSON, A NAVY VETERAN, HAS OWNED GUNS HIMSELF – AND SAYS HE ENJOYED HUNTING AND SHOOTING WHEN HE WAS YOUNG.
GREG GIBSON: Yeah, I’m gun neutral. It’s your right. You’re an American. For better or for worse, this is the country we live in. Just make sure that you don’t buy one every month. And that you don’t get it at a gun show without a proper licensing and permitting.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: RECENTLY GUN SHOWS AND PRIVATE SALES HAVE COME UNDER SCRUTINY. EVEN THOUGH A 1993 FEDERAL LAW REQUIRES BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR GUNS BOUGHT THROUGH LICENSED DEALERS …. TODAY ONLY THREE STATES AND THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA REQUIRE BACKGROUND CHECKS FOR ALL GUNS BOUGHT FROM PRIVATE SELLERS … AT GUN SHOWS, FOR EXAMPLE.
GIBSON SAYS HE’S FRUSTRATED BY WHAT HE SEES AS A LACK OF POLITICAL WILL. IN A NEW YORK TIMES OP-ED AFTER THE NEWTOWN SHOOTINGS, HE WROTE: “I CAME TO REALIZE THAT, IN ESSENCE, THIS IS THE WAY WE IN AMERICA WANT THINGS TO BE. WE WANT OUR FREEDOM, AND WE WANT OUR FIREARMS, AND IF WE HAVE TO ENDURE THE OCCASIONAL SCHOOL SHOOTING, SO BE IT.”
GIBSON SAYS HE SUPPORTS CURRENT PROPOSALS LIKE BETTER BACKGROUND CHECKS ON MENTAL HEALTH – AN IDEA THE NRA HAS SUPPORTED TOO – AND A NATIONAL BAN ON HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES, LIKE THE ONE USED BY WAYNE LO.
GREG GIBSON: All you get is seven rounds. At once. Then you have to put a new clip in. That’s not a bad place to start, as far as I’m concerned. I’d like to see something. I’d like to see anything. Nationally. Just a step in that direction. And that would give me great hope, great encouragement. Will there never be any more Newtowns? No. Sadly, there will always be Newtowns because of the creatures that we are. Some small proportion of us do this. But can we make it harder for them to do it? Yeah. And should we try? Yeah. We should try. Good God, look around. Look what we’re letting happen and look how we’re reacting to it. It’s like we’re crazy. We’re crazy as society, crazy. If we let this happen. Because we don’t have to.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: THE DAMAGE SUFFERED BY WHAT’S ALREADY HAPPENED CONTINUES TO REVERBERATE… SO MUCH SO THAT 20 YEARS AFTER THE RAMPAGE AT SIMON’S ROCK, SEVERAL OF THOSE WHO LIVED THROUGH IT TOLD US PRIVATELY IT’S STILL TOO PAINFUL TO TALK ABOUT. ONE PERSON SAID, NOT A DAY GOES BY WHEN SHE DOESN’T THINK ABOUT IT.
AS FOR THE SECURITY GUARD GUNNED DOWN ALONG THIS ROAD, SHE SUFFERED SEVERE INTERNAL INJURIES. SHE’S DUE FOR YET ANOTHER SURGERY THIS SPRING …. HER NINETEENTH. HER HUSBAND TOLD US, THE STRUGGLE AND SUFFERING JUST DON’T END.
THE COLLEGE ITSELF HAS HEALED AND GROWN OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS. AND AS MANY POINT OUT, THE SHOOTINGS IN 1992 HAPPENED BEFORE MOST OF THE 400 OR SO YOUNG STUDENTS HERE WERE EVEN BORN. PETER LAIPSON IS THE PROVOST OF SIMON’S ROCK.
PETER LAIPSON: It’s very much an event that we would hope doesn’t come to mind first when people think about the college. But at the same time, it’s not the kind of event or– a moment in the history of the college that we wanna disavow. It’s part of our past. We wanna acknowledge that it happened. And we wanna honor the memory of those people who were injured or who died. And yet, we move forward with the– with the work of educating the next generation of young people.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: A QUIET ATRIUM IN THE LIBRARY WHERE GALEN GIBSON DIED NOW SERVES AS A MEMORIAL TO HIM AND PROFESSOR ÑACUÑÁN SÁEZ … A BULLET MARK ON AN INNER DOOR ONE OF THE ONLY TRACES LEFT OF THE HORROR OF THAT NIGHT.
THIS PAST YEAR, THE COLLEGE HELD A SPECIAL MEMORIAL TO HONOR THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE SHOOTINGS…AND IT WAS THERE THAT MANY FACULTY, STAFF, ALUMNI AND STUDENTS FIRST LEARNED OF THE SHOOTINGS IN NEWTOWN.
JOAN DELPLATO: The reason we’re here today…
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: AND FOR THE FACULTY AND STAFF WHO WERE AT SIMON’S ROCK 20 YEARS AGO, MANY SAY THEY’VE MANAGED TO MOVE ON. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY HAVEN’T CONTINUED TO BE AFFECTED IN MANY DIFFERENT WAYS.
JOAN DELPLATO: As I look back over 20 years, I think about how the shooting really has changed me as a teacher and as a human being. Um- One the one hand, I’m much harder and by that I mean, I’m much more vigilant. If there’s a student who in class, let’s say, is particularly belligerent, I am right there in touch with the staff. But I think also, the- the shootings have made me softer. I think a higher priority for me now, higher than any lesson I’ve prepared or studied for for years or collaborated with with my colleagues –the highest priority is to treasure these precious individuals who are our students.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: LITERATURE PROFESSOR PETER FILKINS SAYS HE’S GAINED A DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF EVENTS LIKE THESE.
PETER FILKINS: The people of Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech are also going to have to go through another 20 years. Uh- And I know what that’s like and, uh- and I- I can’t imagine what it’s like for them. Because their events are so much worse. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings. Simon’s Rock doesn’t- isn’t on that list because to be a mass shooting, you have to have four dead. We only had two. That is a perverse statistic in itself, but it also just tells you if- if we feel what we feel after 20 years, what do all those other 62 communities, and all the people attached to them feel? I think I know some fraction of that. And, uh- I pity the fraction that they have to feel.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: SHOOTING SURVIVOR JOSH FABER RECOVERED FULLY. HE’S NOW A MATH PROFESSOR AND THE FATHER OF TWO YOUNG CHILDREN.
JOSH FABER: I mean, certainly for every school shooting or every large shooting, um- it strikes a nerve. Um- Newtown was the first one that actually struck me more as a parent than as a- as a survivor of gun violence. As a parent of a kindergartener, um- I- I have to say, like, the reaction was visceral and horrified. And I think one thing I’ve certainly learned is that each and every one has effects that go well beyond the students killed. For the families of the- the kids who are killed, it’s horrific. But you know, it- these things strike down a community at a time. Um- They have gigantic broad ranging effects.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: AND THAT’S A POINT THAT GREG GIBSON HAS BEEN MAKING FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS.
GREG GIBSON: I talk and talk and talk about the ripples of gun violence ….
I don’t know what the kid- Newtown kid’s gun cost, but it was probably in the hundreds of dollars. And just add up the cost of the displacement of those lives, of the therapy, of the damage, of the- of the damage that’s going to be caused by the damage. How profoundly the brothers and sisters of those six year olds are going to be affected for the rest of their lives by this incident. The parents, of course, suffer terribly. But it’s not going to stop there. That ring of suffering is going to be perpetuated. So, it’s one gun, a few hundred bucks, just a little ammo, just a God-given right. And the- the sum of consequences – financially and- and socially – incalculable.
All right. Let’s go home.
MARIA HINOJOSA [narration]: THIS WEEK ONLINE, TAKE PART IN OUR WEEKLY POLL. THE TOPIC: GUN CONTROL. LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK AND WHY. VISIT PBS.ORG/NEED TO KNOW.
MARIA HINOJOSA: Another consequence of gun violence: lives spent in wheelchairs. On this week’s American Voices, shooting victim Jerry McGill.
JERRY MCGILL: As a youngster, I really enjoyed sports. I was a really active kid. And I was also taking ballet classes… I was either going to be an athlete or an entertainer. My life really changed in an instant because on January 1st, 1982, I was walking home from my good friend’s house. And a shot rang out. And in the second between the time that bullet entered my back and I hit the floor, I basically had to adjust to a whole new life. I would have to spend the next six months in the hospital, where I would have to learn to eat again. To write again and I would be rendered a quadriplegic for the rest of my life. The impact of being confined to a wheelchair at a young age was pretty devastating to my family. My sister was a child. My mother was a– working mother. And both of their lives changed dramatically. Because they basically would live their lives serving me. But I’ve learned over the 30 years since being shot that life doesn’t end with one tragedy, or one trauma. I’ve actually gone on to be a mentor and a role model for many people with disabilities. And working with young people. And so, I– I have no regrets. Life still has many doors open to you.
MARIA HINOJOSA: That’s it for another edition of Need to Know. For more of PBS’s special After Newtown coverage, please visit PBS.org/need to know. And on our next broadcast…with the immigration debate heating up, we visit a farming community that’s home to generations of migrant workers. And even today, many live in desperately poor conditions.
ARTURO MANZO: You can see how I live. There are no luxuries. There’s no new cars. There’s no new clothes. I can only afford the basic necessities. And I don’t know how to explain it but somehow we make it.
MARIA HINOJOSA: I’m Maria Hinojosa. Thanks so much for watching