Vermonter, survivor films documentary on Simon's Rock shooting

By  | 

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A sad coincidence: This is five years to the day since Sandy Hook and exactly 25 years since another school shooting at a small liberal arts college in the Berkshires. Alumni of Simon's Rock were marking 20 years since two were killed and four injured in that rampage, when they learned about the massacre at the Connecticut elementary school.

One of the survivors of that college campus shooting is Vermonter Eva Sollberger. You probably know her from her creative-- often fun and exuberant-- "Stuck in Vermont" pieces for Seven Days and for her appearances on WCAX News each week to talk about them.

But Sollberger is working on a decidedly different story now. It is a documentary about the terror on her college campus that she says happened before school shootings seemed so... normal.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: It was just a normal day, right?
Eva Sollberger: It was. We were getting ready to go on our Christmas break.

Simon's Rock is the kind of campus that draws bright, creative kids looking for a place to learn in a nontraditional way.

"We were so young and we felt so safe on this campus," Sollberger said.

But she says her classmates still struggle with feeling unsafe after what happened the night of Dec. 14, 1992.

"All of a sudden, we heard these pops. And we got a phone call there was an active shooter on campus," Sollberger said. "And we were told to lock ourselves in a room, which we did."

Spanish teacher Ñacuñán Saez, 37, was in his car when student Wayne Lo shot him dead. Galen Gibson, an 18-year-old student was gunned down as he headed toward the scene to help.

"I just think the world just lost these two bright lights," Sollberger said.

Lo injured four others before his gun jammed and he surrendered to police. The school community learned later his targets were random. He had heard voices telling him to kill as many people as he could. He's serving a life sentence.

Sollberger says the fear of that night has roared back too many times: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Essex Elementary, Sandy Hook.

"Every single time it's just like this sinking feeling," she said. "And you kind of go back to that night and I'm 18 again and I'm locked in a room and I don't know what's going to happen and if I'm going to make it through the night."

That's part of what's fueling her documentary on the Simon's Rock shooting, a way to take on the grief.

"It was that kick in the gut and also that feeling of hopelessness, like this will never get better," Sollberger said.

And it's a way to take on gun violence. The Simon's Rock shooter was a fellow student. An 18-year-old with mental illness.

"He was able to buy a gun in 15 minutes through a Massachusetts loophole and he was able to get ammunition sent to him on a college campus," Sollberger explained.

She reached out to the killer in prison. The two knew each other from campus but had never talked before.

"Talking with Wayne was something I needed to do," Sollberger said. "I needed to-- humanize him because he is a murderer. He killed these two innocent people and wounded four others and I can't forgive him for it, but I can accept that he is a human being and that is important to me. I just didn't want him to be a boogeyman."

She learned he thinks he could have been stopped.

"I do think some form of better gun control does help," Lo said in Sollberger's documentary. "I would not have been able to get the gun in the first place, so that really would have prevented me in my case."

"It's so personal to all the Simon's Rock students that I worry about even producing something like this and hurting people because it dredges up so many memories for so many people," Sollberger said. "But, I ultimately feel that talking about it is the way to heal."

Sollberger says it has been a long and emotional project. She still has more interviews she wants to do, including the police who responded who night. There's no date set for the documentary to be done.