Though a delicate issue that remains very painful for many alumni, staff and faculty, and even students on campus today, the 1992 shooting at Simon’s Rock was the lead piece for PBS’s Need to Know show on Friday, Feb. 22. The piece is twenty minutes long, and there are plans to post additional footage online. Over the past few weeks, film crews interviewed faculty and staff on campus for the news segment, conceived by the Need to Know associate producer, Zachary Green ’99 alumnus.
Like much of the country, the Friday, Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School swept up Green, but for him, there was a personal note to the tragedy, as it occurred on the same day as the Simon’s Rock shooting twenty years earlier.
“The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary left me absolutely stunned,” Green said. “We’ve become so inured to such things in our culture, but I think the fact that victims of this shooting were so young was sort of the last straw. That it occurred on the twenty year anniversary of our own shooting was incidental, but to think that in twenty years the frequency and the deadliness of spree shootings have become so much worse really demands some reflection.”
But it was the New York Times opinion piece by Gregory Gibson, the father of one of the victims of the Simon’s Rock shooting, that really got Zach thinking.
“It occurred to me that we rarely ever hear from people who have lost loved ones in these attacks, and with good reason,” Green said. “Who wants to revisit the most painful experience of their life? But Greg is someone who has revisited – in painstaking detail – his loss and has been willing to speak about what it means for him. That’s something I think we need to hear more of in our society. You can’t argue with someone’s personal experience. There’s no political position you can take with it. It simply is.”
Green then pitched the idea of a story about the Simon’s Rock shooting in light of the Sandy Hook massacre to his executive producer, who was enthused about the project and wanted to make it the lead piece.
“When I first found out that this segment would be the lead piece for the show… I was incredibly nervous,” Green said. “I was afraid that I was going to reopen an old wound that the college had suffered and cause undue pain to people I care about. But after having spoken with so many faculty and alumni while researching and producing this piece, I’ve come away from the experience prouder and with more love for my college than ever.”
Rather than “rehash events,” Green wanted to take a long view of the story.
“We wanted to show how these events ripple out over time and that a shooting doesn’t simply result in lives lost and injuries,” Green said. “It touches everyone who was involved in one way or another. For some, it drastically alters the course of their lives.”
Though interviews with Gibson and Josh Faber, a student wounded in the Simon’s Rock shooting, feature prominently in the segment, several faculty and alumni from Simon’s Rock and Berkshire County residents were also interviewed.
“I have to say that every step of the way, the college and the Alumni Association were unbelievably helpful,” Green notes. “This would be a delicate subject to approach anyone about, but asking a whole community to revisit an event as painful as this one seems nearly impossible, especially when you’re a part of that community. Nevertheless, the more I spoke with people and explained what we were trying to do, the more willing they were to open up about their personal experiences resulting from that day. It really was profoundly rewarding for me.”
Green also thanks Peter Laipson, Provost, and Paige Orloff, Director of Communications, for working with him and allowing so much access on-campus, as well as Margaret Cherin, Exhibitionist Curator and College Archivist, who helped him go through Simon’s Rock’s extensive archives from the shooting.
Like many Simon’s Rock students, Green came to Simon’s Rock to “escape the intellectual doldrums of high school,” and found an environment that was both intellectually and socially stimulating.
Green graduated from Simon’s Rock in 2003 with a BA in Theater and Literary Studies. He settled in New York City intending to pursue acting and theater, but soon found himself getting “more creative fulfillment working in production.” He landed a job as a production assistant at WNET, PBS’s New York City affiliate, and as he gained more experience with the production process, he worked his way up to his current position as associate producer.
According to Green, Simon’s Rock was the first place he “learned that I could throw myself out into the open around almost anybody.” He found this to be a huge shift from the high school experience and ultimately the transition helped him become the person he is today.
“After speaking with so many alumni, I’m reminded that Simon’s Rockers truly are a breed apart: smart, funny, and outspoken,” Green said. “I hope that idea is something that the Simon’s Rock community can take away from the piece and the web segments that accompany it, if nothing else: the unique nature of the place that we’re all a part of.”
The Need to Know video segment is currently online here, featured as part of the “After Newtown” initiative.