Editor's note: This StoryCorps conversation was difficult to have, and may be hard for some listeners to hear and read.
Greg Gibson and Wayne Lo recently spoke for the first time in person at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Norfolk, a medium-security level prison for male inmates, but the story behind their meeting — how their lives collided and subsequently crumbled — began decades ago.
They acknowledged this at the beginning of their StoryCorps conversation at the prison.
"My name is Greg Gibson, and I'm speaking with the man who killed my son," Gibson, 72, begins.
"My name is Wayne Lo. I'm sitting here with the father of Galen, whom I murdered 25 years ago," Lo, 43, responds.
On Dec. 14, 1992, Lo, then a student at Simon's Rock college in Great Barrington, Mass., stalked the campus with a semiautomatic rifle, firing at random using ammunition ordered over the phone and delivered to him at school. At the time, Lo said he was receiving commands from God. Lo wounded four people and killed two, including Galen. He's now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole.
In the years since, Gibson has set out to understand how it happened, in hopes of preventing others from living through what he has.
"Almost since that first moment, it has been my constant prayer to take this most awful of things that could possibly happen and turn it into something good, so that it's not all just a pure waste and loss," Gibson says.
Gibson set up The Galen Gibson Fund, which contributes to organizations working to serve victims of gun violence, and he also interviewed other victims and their families, school officials, even the man who sold Lo the gun. He put those conversations in a book, Gone Boy, first published in 1999.
Then, Gibson started getting letters from one person he hadn't talked to — 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 or to find closure, just to look Lo in the eye and talk. And they did.
At one point, Lo explains how simple it was to get access to the gun he used to commit the murders.
"I was able to just take a taxi and go to the gun store. I said 'I want this SKS rifle.' And it's incredible how easy it was," he says. "The people on the phone where I ordered [the ammunition] from, they said, 'Thank you very much for your purchase. We'll get it out as soon as we could to you.' This was the first time ever purchasing a weapon, ever using a weapon, ever firing a weapon."
Lo thanks Gibson for giving him the opportunity to connect, saying that "there are other families that don't want to have anything to do with me and I totally understand that."
Gibson says he understood that, too.
"We've all suffered, we've all grown wise from our suffering, and some people do it one way, some people do it another way," he says.
Near the end of the conversation, Lo asks what Gibson's family thought about his visit. Gibson, who has two children in addition to Galen, says he thinks the visit bothers his son.
"He just doesn't want to have anything to do with it," Gibson says. "He doesn't want to talk about it, and I respect that completely. So yeah, I think they think I'm a little crazy. But they're proud that I'm working for Galen so that people don't have to keep doing this. I don't think any of them would like to be here, with me, talking to you, no. And, that's just the way, you know, that's the way it is."
Isabel Dobrin (@isabeldobrin) is an NPR Digital News intern.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It is Friday, which means it is time for StoryCorps. And we should say, this is an intimate conversation about murder. It could strike your ears in different ways, so I just wanted to warn you.
In December of 1992, a college student named Wayne Lo brought a semi-automatic rifle to the campus of Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts. Lo said he had been receiving commands from God. He fired the rifle at random. Two people died. Four were wounded. And Wayne Lo is now serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole. One of Lo's victims was Galen Gibson. And in the 25 years since that night, Galen's dad, Greg Gibson, has tried to understand what happened.
GREG GIBSON: Almost since that first moment, it has been my constant prayer to take this most awful of things that could possibly happen and turn it into something good so that it's not all just a pure waste and loss.
GREENE: Gibson interviewed other victims and their families, school officials, even the man who sold Lo the gun. He put those conversations in a book, and then he started getting letters from the one person he hadn't talked to - Wayne Lo. As the 25th anniversary approached, Gibson visited Lowe in prison for a StoryCorps interview. He wasn't looking to forgive or to find closure. He just wanted to look Lo in the eye and talk. It was the first time they'd ever spoken.
GIBSON: My name is Greg Gibson, and I'm speaking with the man who killed my son.
WAYNE LO: My name is Wayne Lo. I'm sitting here with the father of Galen, whom I murdered 25 years ago.
GIBSON: How would you describe your mental state in those days?
LO: I was disturbed. I would see things that made me think that I was on some kind of a mission from God. But I know I wasn't, now that I look back at it. At the time, I was.
GIBSON: Sure. But at the time, that was what you felt.
LO: At the time, I felt it. So I felt that I had to do something. I was able to just take a taxi and go to the gun store. I said, I want this SKS rifle. And it's incredible how easy it was.
GIBSON: And the same, I assume, with the ammunition.
LO: I had my mom's credit card. The people on the phone where I ordered from, they said, thank you very much for your purchase. We'll get it out as soon as we could to you. This was the first time ever purchasing a weapon, ever using a weapon, ever firing a weapon.
LO: For just a few minutes, I've destroyed so many lives.
GIBSON: For years, you were in denial about the whole episode. And then at some point, you reached out to me. You said you wanted to apologize. What changed?
LO: Someone came to me one day with a magazine here in prison. And he said, Wayne, you might want to read this. In the middle of it was an article where you had an interview. And it made me realize that there are families out there.
LO: I didn't know Galen personally at Simon's Rock. But at the trial, you spoke about how you guys came on campus that time and came out of the car and everybody gave Galen a standing ovation. I was there. I was there, Mr. Gibson. I was there. I didn't know him, but I stood up too because I knew everybody loved him.
GIBSON: Well, we sure did. This is really exhausting, isn't it?
LO: Yes, it is.
GIBSON: You tell your parents that you're having this conversation?
LO: Yes, absolutely. I know they thank you just as much as I thank you for allowing me to even apologize to you. There are other families that don't want to have anything do with me, and I totally understand that.
GIBSON: Yeah. I do, too, you know. We've all suffered. We've all grown wise from our suffering. And some people do it one way. Some people do it another way. I understand that.
LO: I know that your family, perhaps they don't agree with what you're doing, giving me the opportunity to speak. Is there ever a conflict within you that you're doing something that might bother them?
GIBSON: Yeah. I think it bothers my son. He just doesn't want to have anything to do with it. He doesn't want to talk about it. And I respect that completely. So yeah, I think they think I'm a little crazy. But they're proud that I'm working for Galen so that people don't have to keep doing this. I don't think any of them would like to be here with me talking to you, no. And that's just the way, you know, it's the way it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: Greg Gibson talking to Wayne Lo, the man who murdered his son in a shooting rampage 25 years ago this month. You can read an excerpt from Gibson's book at npr.org. And you can hear more from him on the StoryCorps podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.