April 16, 2008 marked the one year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre, which ended with 33 people dead (32 murders and one suicide). The intervening year has seen other school shootings, although thankfully not with the body count suffered in Virginia. If you've struggled like everyone else to understand and make sense of it, then read on.
Gregory Gibson's Gone Boy: A Walkabout is a remarkably uplifting, informative book about one man's attempt to make sense out of senseless violence, to find "the truth in his son's murder". Gone Boy was published in 1998, but I just discovered it this month. It is timely and relevant, perhaps even more so today than when it was written.
Gibson's son, Galen, was killed in 1992, a victim of a random campus shooting spree by a mentally ill fellow student. Parallels between the shootings in 1992 at Simon's Rock College and in 2006 at Virginia Tech are achingly similar. The death toll at Simon's Rock might have been much, much higher if the shooter's weapon had not continually misfired.
Gibson and his family were devastated. There was a lengthy painful criminal trial, followed by civil lawsuits and countersuits causing more pain and no resolution. Gibson was being consumed by his rage and frustration over deceptions by college administrators, by the stalemating of the legal system.
Gibson's close family and friends were valued supports, but he was powerfully driven to do something. He is a (self-described) drunk and an atheist, surviving his son's death resulted in his overindulging in drink and finding little comfort elsewhere. His wife was lost in her own grieving, while his surviving children were struggling to go forward with their own lives.
After almost three years of being enmeshed in the aftermath of the shooting and ensuing legal battles, Gregory Gibson decided to write a book. He went on a "walkabout", a quest to meet with and talk to and try to understand the people involved and how the shooting happened. The fact that he was able to turn all of this grief and pain and anger into such a thoughtful and contemplative book is rather miraculous.
The walkabout was a process of following the bullet back into the gun, the gun into the hands of the murderer, the killer back into the boy he used to be. He met with the owner of the gun shop that sold the used firearm to the college student. He met with the man who had originally purchased the weapon. He met with administrators and students at the college, with other victims who survived the shootings and their families. He interviewed police officers, psychiatrists and lawyers connected with the criminal trial.
He met with friends and family of the shooter.
Gibson didn't find any easy answers or solutions but he found a lot of wounded people. A lot of people trying to make some sense out of what happened. It is a provocative and strangely uplifting read, a journey of forgiveness. Gibson is a listener and a thinker and a man with great heart. He also writes really well.
Gibson also has a website, GONEBOY: a walkabout, with a memorial fund, photos of his family, information about guns and violence, and an interesting update. Wayne Lo, the young man who killed his son, read the book and was moved to write to the author and they have been corresponding. An article about their correspondence appeared in the New York Times, Man and His Son's Slayer Unite to Ask Why .