I got the news via Facebook early last evening. There in my news feed was the genial, instantly recognizable face of Pat Gregory moderating a West Tisbury town meeting, and next to it the ungraspable Martha’s Vineyard Times headline: “Pat Gregory murdered while hiking in California.”
According to the Vineyard Gazette, “Authorities said between 11:30 am and noon [Friday, May 16], Mr. Gregory and his companion encountered a man who produced a firearm and demanded money and personal effects from the victims. ‘After the robbery was completed, the suspect then shot the victims and left them in the remote area about 100 yards from the trail head,’ the release said.”
If you’ve read my blog posts about West Tisbury town meetings, you’ve seen Pat’s photo. Since 1991 he’d been our town moderator.
In the 1970s and early ’80s, Pat taught middle school math at the West Tisbury School. In 1985 he and his wife, Dorothy, started Edu Comp, which sells computers and art and office supplies at the head of Main Street, Vineyard Haven.
Pat became West Tisbury’s moderator in 1991. His kids went to school here. His grandkids are in school here now.
So many of us knew Pat in one way or another, and often in several ways. As it has in the past, Facebook has become an ongoing wake. Friends, acquaintances, and relatives are posting memories of Pat and responses to his death. Pat’s FB timeline reads like the guest book at a memorial service. “Stunned” and “shocked” have come up a lot.
After “stunned” and “OMG,” my reaction was “I hope they catch that guy and fry him.” It passed, but there it was. I get it. After a senseless, inexplicable, irrevocable act that deprives a family of a loved one, a community of a deeply loved and respected and irreplaceable member, I wanted to strike back at fate. I wanted someone to pay, even if Pat won’t come back no matter what price is paid.
What kind of person would rob two men and then shoot them? Could whatever valuables they were carrying possibly have been worth the risk of being caught and charged with (most likely) first-degree murder? Reason doesn’t apply here. This act was, to use another word that’s come up often, “senseless.”
Which means unpredictable and hence unpreventable.
I just read two news accounts about the shooting from the Red Bluff Daily News. Red Bluff, it seems, like West Tisbury, is the kind of place where this kind of thing never happens. People hike the Iron Canyon Trail without thinking about the possibility of violence, the way I walk the dirt roads and footpaths of Martha’s Vineyard.
Or they did until last Friday afternoon.
Red Bluff, I’m guessing, is also like West Tisbury and Martha’s Vineyard in that a senseless death would affect, directly and indirectly, just about everybody who lives there. They know what we’re going through. We know what they’re going through. Or at least we have some idea. We can feel for people we’ve never seen and never will see.
The man who killed Pat Gregory and critically wounded his friend couldn’t feel for two men who were standing right in front of him. He’s inflicted grief and loss and anger on hundreds of people whose existence he probably can’t imagine.
The song that’s making its way into my brain is Holly Near’s “It Could Have Been Me but Instead It Was You.” She wrote it in response to the shootings at Kent State (1970) and the murder of singer-songwriter Victor Jara by the Chilean junta (1973), but it travels well. Here it is.