Richard at The River Garden

Richard at The River Garden

Note: This post was written in the year following the murder at the Co-op. In the comments that ensued below, readers suggest the naivete of–Richard at the River Garden–saying that I do not understand the magnitude of his act.  What about the Rwandans? 

Finally, there is news of Richard Gagnon, and the trial that we have been dreading–and waiting for–so that we might put this nightmare behind us.

But alas, the news is that the trial is tentatively set for: fall–more than a year after Richard shot and killed a fellow co-worker in our community co-op.

The new store will be open by then, and perhaps the old one will be demolished; but of course, there is no demolishing the loss we have suffered.

It’s true that we can now walk into the Co-op, and just for a moment, forget that it ever happened. We can almost step foot into the wine department without thinking of Richard. We might be able to complete an entire round in the store without a thought of the back office where blood was shed. (Who can imagine having to work back there?  Wouldn’t we be the first to volunteer to begin the demolition? With a vengeance.)

My heart aches when I think of this trial and all it represents; and all it avoids.

Of course, Richard was mentally ill when he shot his boss. Anyone who shoots another human being must be mentally impaired. The level of guilt assigned by the courts is irrelevant to Michael Martin who is dead. Forever. Michael’s sentence can never be shortened, and neither can his family’s. There is no compensation for a life that makes any sense. Not years or a lifetime or even another death.

My idea is this: place Richard in the center of the River Garden each day where the rest of us, one by one, can come to meet him. Each will share his loss. Some may cry, some may scream, some may sit in the silence of unspeakable pain.

Richard’s “sentence” will be to receive–as long as people keep coming.

When he is not scheduled at the River Garden, Richard will report to the family from whom he has stolen a loved one. He will stack the wood, and clean the car and fix the fences like Michael would have done. Afterwards, he will make rounds at the homes of fellow staff members-to offset the time they lost to grief and outrage and despair. He’ll help with the laundry. He’ll take out the trash. He’ll do the dishes. He’ll clean up after the dog.

The next day, Richard will return to the River Garden for his scheduled appointments. Children will send pictures they drew after the murder. Mothers will share how they held their children through the nights afterward. Lovers will tell of sweetness lost. Colleagues will share the heartbreak of loosing both Michael and Richard.

Richard will continue to show up each day until no one comes. And then he will sit with his own pain. He will teach others how to listen. How to be conscious. How to take responsibility for anger or resentment or even depression.

He will bless our community in humble service until we have healed.

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous posts: BFC Tragedy.

3 thoughts on “Richard at The River Garden

  1. “Anyone who shoots another human being must be mentally impaired.”

    I completely disagree.

    A woman who is raped, beaten and tormented by her partner over and over shoots him to save her own life when he finally comes at her with a shotgun. Mentally impaired?

    A man comes home to find his wife and children about to be killed by an intruder shoots the man dead in order to save his family. Mentally impaired?

    Had police come upon Melissa Jenkins being murdered last month in St. Johnsbury, would they have been mentally impaired in killing her killers to save her?

    Richard Gagnon had his fragile ego severely wounded by another man.

    He then became enraged and yet he calmly, rationally and sanely procured a gun, planned his crime, purposefully chose his victim, consciously took the man’s life and then quietly waited for the police to arrest him, stating “I don’t want to hurt anyone else.” Rage and revenge are not mental illnesses or depression. They are, instead, the unreasonable and – in this case – tragic results of wounded narcissism.

    The defense of mental illness is a way for Gagnon to refuse taking responsibility. He clearly has no desire to do the time he deserves. He would love to get out in 15 years, if not sooner. He may as well announce, “I took another man’s life, but I was angry and hurt, and I don’t deserve to have my life taken.” If anything, this victim stance is the illness.

    River Garden meet n’ greet? Chores at the Martins? He walked up behind another human being and fired a bullet into his brain. Do you really understand the magnitude of this crime?

    Thank you.


  2. Thank you RC, I am not convinced a “meet n’ greet and chores are going to make the his children feel better that they are not able to touch their father or hear his voice, it takes a lot longer than 15 years for the pain to go away and to stop hurting.


  3. I disagree with you RC because someone obviously has to have some sort of problem with his brain to shoot someone and try to kill them; your average person doesn’t do that.

    A raped and beaten woman could simply consult someone about that and where would she even get a gun anyway if the husband had a shot gun? Even if she had a gun, her husband would have shot first if he was stupid enough to rape and beat her. Mentally impaired.

    All of your scenarios don’t apply. Someone doesn’t have to kill someone to save someone. If you think that, maybe you’re mentally impaired.

    Richard did not actually plan his crime, he simply was upset had some sort of tragic thing fueling him and he went to the Co-op with his gun and shot the manager.

    Besides how would you know he has a fragile ego?

    My family knew him and that is not the Richard Gagnon we knew. And look back to the last thing you said: what sort of sane person would fire a bullet into another’s brain? No one. His crime is murder, a high magnitude crime; and the author understands that by putting someone into a state of boredom and a horrible life is not the right punishment for anything. Her alternative is much better.

    Richard wakes up everyday realizing that he is where he is because he killed a man and that makes him more angry and more upset and more likely to kill another or himself because of that. No one, and I mean absolutely no one, deserves to have that pain.

    This way makes it so two families morn and grieve.

    In the author’s way, only one does and for a shorter time because they have another family helping them and telling them that they are so sorry for their loss and helping in the ways that Micheal did.

    Not mental illness. Mentally impaired. Very different. Do you really think that this man does not feel terrible about what he did? If you really think that please, please go see a doctor or a psychiatrist.
    – A


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