Dear Richard,

Dear Richard,

Dear Richard,

Despite the truth that you have stolen something precious from ALL of us, I grieve for YOU.

Though I have been wronged many times in my life, and never chosen murder, still–I ache for you.

You must have lost your mind and your heart and your soul to proceed the way you did.

No doubt “the issues” that provoked you triggered some unhealed trauma inside of you.

Your vision must have narrowed so tightly around an “enemy” that you did not see Michael’s new wife Jennifer, or the rest of his family, or the rest of his days.

But what about your co-workers? What about Ian who spoke with you just before you entered Michael’s office? 

What of Diane who found you out back behind the Co-op after the shooting?

What about all your fellow staff members present that morning?

What about all of us who have ever worked at the Co-op, or shopped there?

Did you want to rob us all as well?

Did you know that your act would be felt as far away as Thailand, and in every co-op around the country?

Did you know that you would steal sleep from strangers, summer vacation days from children,
romantic getaways from couples?

Did you want blood spilled in the place that has fed so many so well?

As I read the expressions of support on the Co-op’s Facebook page, I am stunned by how many people have been affected by your choice. I don’t think any of us, including you, could have imagined it so.

Because I don’t know Michael, it is  you for whom I grieve when I see you in the courtroom, locked in shackles, instead of on the tennis court at South Pond with a racket in your hand.

And what about Meg?

You must have considered your beloved.

Michael Martin lost his life, but you lost… everything.

You have given it up to rage.

You have given up your wife, your community, your sense of who you are and who you can be.

My eleven year old now knows a murderer. He has collected the balls that you have hit into the water where he swims.

Last night as I tucked him into bed, 300 miles away from you, he said,

“Mom, Vermont doesn’t have the death penalty, right?”


Kelly Salasin, August 11, 2011

whose sons have been lifelong Co-op members

This is the second post on the Brattleboro Food Co-op tragedy, click here for others.

40 thoughts on “Dear Richard,

  1. my heart and stomach just ache thinking about it all. I too am away from home right now and I can’t get Richard, Meg, and the concept of how the community must be feeling out of my mind. It makes my home feel very connected and small in a good way- but I am so so sad.


  2. This is an amazing post, and you have summed up many of my thoughts. Though I did not know Richard so well, I think anyone that was part of the co-op family, the Brattleboro family, can empathize with your words.


  3. Thank you Kelly, you have captured so many feelings we are all having. And yes, even the potatoes are sad….


  4. Thank you for your words, I’m a store manager at a co-op in CA and I knew Michael. The tragedy in VT has touched me in more ways than i can explain. You’ve done an amazing job of putting so many of my thoughts and feelings into words. I am forever changed by this event.


  5. Thank you, Kelly. I continue to find myself without the words I need to express my sorrow and grief over this tragic incident; I appreciate that you’ve said so well what we’re all feeling.


  6. thank you, kelly for such sensitivity describing how deeply this affected so many of us. i was the produce manager at BFC many years ago, and knew richard as a coworker and a friend (also meg) i did not know michael martin, but mourn for him and his family. i now live in portland, oregon and being somewhat disconnected from my vermont ‘home’ my brother who lives in putney told me what happened. i can only imagine how the community feels collectively. can we imagine what richard must have and is now feeling and thinking? i feel compelled to know more about the details of the events leading up to tuesday morning, august 9th as i did almost 20 years ago – when another tragedy struck the co-op – my friend and co-op employee/co-worker took his and his girlfriend’s life suddenly and seemingly without warning. there is much healing, understanding and reckoning to be done. be well, luby wind


    1. Luby,
      Nice to hear you… thanks for the reminder of the event 20 years ago; assures me of the healing that is to come… much as people came to (with sadness and love) hold K’s memory in a loving circle that got woven back into the fabric of coop life.


  7. “No doubt “the issues” that provoked you triggered some unhealed trauma inside of you.”

    Very well said. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was the determining factor in this man’s actions.

    Thank you for your reflections on this horrendous tragedy.


  8. I learned of your blog through a posting on ibrattleboro. All I can say is “wow” and “thank you”. How eloquently and compassionately you have addressed this tragedy through language. A long-time Coop shopper, I haven’t yet had the strength to walk through the door to replenish my pantry. I tried, and my body launched into an immediate panic attack in the truest sense of the word. The Coop shouldn’t suffer financial losses in additional to emotional trauma that will personally follow many. I am at a loss. And feel alone. And I wonder how many others are feeling as I?


  9. As usual, your courageous pen has provoked a range of feeling with so little words. Compassion, grief, love…your words encompass the One in community. And, if we might all have the child sensibility of both fetching balls in lakes and shunning violence to match violence, we have the opportunity to heal. May our thoughts of men in graves and prison cells, both, promote freedom.


  10. so real and rich, Kelly… as always. My compelling feeling after this tragedy was to return immediately, so on Thursday of last week I found a reason (almond butter I’m not sure we really needed). The place was absolutely bustling… flowers at each register as a silent recognition. Checking out I said to Hannah, “Thanks for coming to work so we can all come back.” She replied, “Thanks for coming back.” THANKS FOR COMING BACK….


    1. Molly, was there any way for shoppers to bridge the tragedy with the shopping outside of their own hearts and vision as you so beautifully did? I wrote to the Co-op this morning, asking the same. I was thinking of a book, a mural, a donation box–anything that gives those who want or need a tangible connection to loss before filling their shopping carts for the first time,


  11. I sit at my desk at the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham, Washington, trying to make sense of what happened in Brattleboro. I’ve never visited the Brattleboro Food Co-op or met any of the people affected by this tragedy, but what you wrote moved me deeply. Thank you for sharing.


  12. Thank you so much. As a regular co-op customer, I also can’t stop thinking about what happened. It feels rather empty to have heard so little from other people about this breach of our co-op. I want to read more than just the facts. Thanks for your words.


  13. Kelly, thank you for this eloquent posting. It puts words to the ache I have for our community. I haven’t ventured into the Co-op for 8 days. I don’t feel afraid; I just don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t know Richard or Michael personally. I knew and adored Michael’s wife….his bride…his elated-to-be-his bride, Jennifer. My heart aches for her. The entire event is such a tragedy on so many levels I want to just wait for a 2011-Shakespeare to write a play about it so I can hear it in some other-worldly context, not in the context of the town my kids went to high school in, not in the sane and generous community that I want to stay a part of, not…just not. Thank you Kelly.


  14. I live in Vermont now but I came from Chicago where violent murder was/is a daily fact and still this death/killing wrenched me in a way I did not expect. Your blog posts encapsulate some of my own thoughts.


  15. Thank you for your heartfelt words that express the complex mix of feelings we are all waking to and living with each day. To those who are having trouble going back into the Coop, I can only say “go”. I find it oddly comforting to go there (have been going there even more than usual), as both the sorrow and the amazing sense of kindness are so tangible. The staff needs us, they are going about their work so bravely, and we need them and each other. And be sure to spend some time looking at all the messages and cards that the Coop has received.


  16. Thank you for your eloquent words Kelly. “You have given up your wife, your community, your sense of who you are and who you can be.” When dealing with my three year old son’s growing independence, my wise sister told me that there’s a thin line between child abusers and those who don’t give way to emotions of frustration, and that very thin line is defined by control. Richard, for as yet unexplained reasons, gave up control of his feelings and powers of reason for a day(s), hours and up to the very last minute, when he decided to pull the trigger of unbounded rage. I wonder, as you do, about unhealed trauma within, creating an ugly suppressed demon which just became unleashed with the provocation of the “issues” at hand. I know that his sense of reason will return one day, and he will ask himself “why”? When that day arrives, I hope the families and community will be able to consider offering up prayers and expressions of forgiveness.


  17. I’m disgusted with all who feel any empathy for Richard. He murdered an innocent man in our co-op. There is no way to way to humanize his actions. He is a monster.


    1. I agree Jennifer. What Richard did was disgusting and monstrous and inhuman.
      That’s what makes our grief (for him and his family) so inexplicable.
      But it’s there, and it points to something…
      Not away from the cruelty of a life taken or away from the heartbreaking devastation of a family, but to the power of the heart–to love–even in the face of such loss. For what Richard stole was both personal and communal, and the latter he stole from all of us, even himself.


      1. I feel like I understand what happened. When you love your job and your workplace so much that it becomes your life, and then you find out you’re going to lose it…murder’s not right, but it’s not really a mystery either.


    2. Dear J. Martin,
      I worked at the Bratt Co-op for several years and I worked with Richard. He is as human as you or I. Calling someone a “monster” is a convenient way to avoid looking at all the factors involved in any act. Richard did wrong. I have great pain knowing that he succumbed to violence. However, I believe that it was an isolated circumstance. I feel Richard, as he told the police, did not mean anyone else harm. IMHO, there is a longterm disfunctional aura at the Co-op which stems from the highest management. I experienced it and I imagine Richard reacted against it. He reacted in the worst possible way; this is a fact. But he is “one of us”……feeling sympathy for his victim does not mean making him a demon…in fact, it is even more devastating to postulate that he killed to “keep” his persona as a Bratt Co-op employee, “the wine man”,…..he could not face being shamed in front of the Co-op community. I hope very much that Richard gets some assistance in dealing with the consequences of his single, but so destructive, act.

      Barb Kane, Seattle, WA


  18. Monsters have a way of living both around us and within us, as does compassion. For me, sometimes it’s difficult to discern. I submit this comment in gratitude to everyone who reads, thinks, feels, and shares about the struggle.


  19. Kelly, I appreciate your words, you eloquently wrote much of what I feel. One point not addressed, though, is that Richard (who I worked with daily for 10 years and served with on the co-op board of directors) is clearly mentally ill. Having known Richard during the 1990s, It seems to me his brain chemistry has changed.

    Richard had not lost his job. Michael was requiring him to make changes in order to keep his job and to improve “the hostile” environment he created for co-workers. That is not consistent with Richard’s past job performance. People who are mentally well do not shoot their supervisors when asked to make changes, however personal. Your open letter implies he made a choice to murder Michael. I contend unbalanced chemistry made a choice. It is no less tragic, but it must be considered. I agree with Jennifer that it was a monstrous act. But clearly, Richard has become unglued.


  20. Ok. So Richard had a day in court April 17 and, to no ones surprise, is pleading “diminished capacity”.There are “issues” in his past..
    Nothing can bring justice to the family and survivors of Michael Martin, though they have every right to wish Richard locked away for life. There is no undoing what was done. My guess is he’ll cop a plea to 2nd degree murder in exchange for a relatively lenient sentence, whatever it is in VT, rather than go to trial in hopes of getting a manslaughter charge but risking a conviction for 1st degree. It will be difficult for the defense to make a claim the murder was not premeditated.
    The Martin’s survivors and family should consider filing a civil suit against Gagnon and the BFC for their complicity in Michaels death by not taking more timely and aggressive measures to prevent Gagnon from creating an abusive and hostile work environment, and tolerating it so long. I experienced it first hand.
    Richard was a bully and management did not have the spine to stand up to him. Michael alone had the courage to step in an put himself in harms way.That is the the unspoken tragedy of Michaels death.
    I trust, at the very least, that the BFC has instituted stronger guidelines to prevent workplace violence and bullying, and will enforce them in the future..


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