What can we learn?

BRATTLEBORO — Under normal circumstances, we do not annotate our reporting with stories-behind-the-stories or other navel-gazing; we much prefer to offer our readers pieces that need no further explanation.

But the shooting that took place almost two years ago at the Brattleboro Food Co-op - when Richard Gagnon, the wine and beer manager, shot and killed his boss, store manager Michael Martin - was no ordinary story for this community, and the journey that Joyce Marcel's extraordinary piece took to get into these pages deserves some context.

Within three days of the Aug. 9, 2011 shooting, the co-op held a candlelight vigil in Martin's memory, with heartfelt eulogies from its leadership for a man who was killed at his desk. At so many points, so many people have described the shooting as a bolt from the blue.

Yet within hours of the shooting, The Commons began hearing from people close to the co-op who expressed that what happened did not come as a surprise to them given the level of tension that they said they had experienced or witnessed.

And the more we learned, the more we wondered about the decisions, actions, conflicts, and other interactions among Gagnon and his colleagues prior to that morning.

In poring over legal documents, police records, and other artifacts of the murder investigation, and in lengthy, detailed, and candid interviews with a significant number of the key players, Marcel looks through a new lens at a bigger, more complex, and more nuanced picture of a store that was moving into the next phase of its growth.

Some people will wince at the prospect of The Commons offering a voice, any voice, to a convicted murderer. Some people will be hurt and offended that we are dredging up the details of a terrible time.

There is no way to approach a story about the loss of life without some degree of rawness and upheaval. We understand and acknowledge that this piece will be upsetting for some - many, even - in the co-op community and for friends and family of both the victim and his killer.

We start from the position that the absence of Michael Martin's voice and perspective in this piece is the very reason that we have afforded so much time, space, and attention to these issues.

Co-op General Manager Alex Gyori forthrightly and candidly addressed the themes that came up in our research, including Gagnon's accounting of the events that unfolded. He provides a different take on the themes in this story. We fully expect others will as well. Our pages and website comments remain open, as always, for discussion and debate.

Let's be clear: Richard Gagnon brought a gun to work and killed his boss, and he now sits in a Kentucky prison. In their interviews with us, he and his wife, Meg McCarthy, could not be more emphatic when they take full responsibility for his act. And lest there be any misunderstanding, nobody at The Commons seeks to glorify, exploit, justify, or condone Gagnon and his crime.

But we can learn from it.

* * *

This community never fully heard, never fully understood, the wide range of human emotions and organizational growing pains that are entwined in and central to this heartbreaking story.

We hope it raises larger questions and challenges for everyone's workplace: how we organize our businesses, how we treat our superiors and our subordinates.

We hope it serves as a cautionary tale for workplaces under pressure, amid rapid change.

We hope it lets us talk openly, candidly, honestly about the role that work plays in our lives - and what happens when we let our jobs blur with our own personal identity.

In short, you'll find in this story a lot to think about and talk about. Our community will be better for the discussion, as difficult as it might be.

-Jeff Potter, editor

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