Family reflects on loss of Francis “Pat” Gregory

One year later and with little to go on, California detectives hope for a break in the murder investigation.

Joseph Arceri, Pat Gregory's college roommate, spoke to mourners from the lectern Mr. Gregory commanded at West Tisbury town meetings at a memorial service held at the Ag Hall last year. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Late Friday morning on May 16, 2014, longtime West Tisbury town moderator Francis “Pat” Gregory, 69, was shot and killed while hiking in California. He had been enjoying a vacation with his wife, Dorothy.

Mr. Gregory and his hiking companion, a 76-year-old male friend from the small nearby town of Manton, Calif., were about 100 yards from the trailhead parking lot in the Sacramento River Bend Outstanding Natural Area, just off heavily traveled Highway 36E, when they encountered a man who robbed and then shot them. The men did not resist, according to police.

A hiker found the victims about three hours after the shooting. Mr. Gregory died. His companion survived.

The news left the small town of West Tisbury and countless people across the Island stunned and grieving. Mr. Gregory, 69, a former West Tisbury School mathematics teacher who moved here with his wife and two children in 1971, had served as West Tisbury town moderator since 1991.

He and Dorothy owned and operated EduComp, the computer, office, and art-supply business they founded in 1985, housed in a well-known brick building at the intersection of Main Street and State Road in Vineyard Haven. He had served on many Island boards. An athlete and sports lover, he had coached youth soccer, and took pleasure in many hours on the golf course.

Days after Mr. Gregory’s tragic death, on May 28, an unprecedented throng of mourners filed into the vast Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury for a standing-room-only memorial service and celebration of life for their friend and neighbor.

More than 3,000 miles away, as the investigation progressed, police released a sketch of the suspect, and offered a $5,000 reward for his arrest and subsequent prosecution and conviction.

“Somehow, somewhere”

Red Bluff is about four hours north of San Francisco by car, and about two hours north of Sacramento. The trail the men were on is regularly used by hikers and people going to the river to fish. A local reporter described Red Bluff as a small community, “just a rural cow town.”

One year later, Tehama County detectives admit that at this point they need a break.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Detective Jeff Garrett said investigators followed what leads there were, but at this juncture there is nothing new.

“We still do whatever we can on our end,” he said, “and the FBI is also working it on their end. What they’re doing is looking at like events or other scenarios throughout the country to what took place here to see if there is any correlation between them.”

Detective Garrett said investigators looked at local suspects, but there has been no evidence to suggest the killer was from the area, or that it was anything but “an extremely random event.”

He said that generally speaking, local people eventually talk to someone, and the prospect of a reward for any information would be expected to provide leads on the department’s tip line, but that has not been the case.

Then again, he added, he has not ruled a local out. “It could be anybody,” he said.

Detective Garrett said the killer took the men’s wallets, containing credit cards, and cell phones, and likely disposed of both quickly. The credit cards were never used, and a search for the wallets turned up nothing.

“With the cell phones, you would think we could get somewhere with that, but that never panned out for us either,” he said. “And we fought the cell phone companies for months on end about getting some cell phone information, and we got very limited, and primarily I think the phone was either destroyed or taken apart pretty recently after the shootings, which is frustrating. We just can’t catch a break.”

Detective Garrett said one option under discussion is to seek more national attention, for example on The Hunt, a reality crime show hosted by John Walsh, creator of America’s Most Wanted.

Mr. Garrett said Tehama County is not immune to violence: “We have our murders, we have homicides, but typically there’s always a purpose behind it, whether it is a gang shooting or domestic violence, or something like that, not just completely random off the side of a highway. It just makes no sense to us.”

Detective Garrett remains confident that the killer will eventually reveal himself. “In time, it’s going to come out. We just don’t know when. Somehow, somewhere, somebody’s going to say something.”

The family reflects

The Times contacted Shannon Gregory Carbon, the daughter of Pat and Dorothy Gregory, last week, asking if she and her family would be willing to respond to several questions about the California police investigation. The family declined to do so, and issued the following statement: “We prefer not to comment publicly on the pending investigation at this time.”

Ms. Carbon went on to offer her own reflections, and those gathered from her family members, about the impact of the loss of their husband and father, and their experiences of rebuilding and continuing their lives for these past 12 months without him.

“My father’s death was shocking to many,” wrote Ms. Carbon in her email. “The violent end to his life lay in marked contrast to the way he lived every day. The Island and beyond treated my father’s death and our family with uncommon decency. For that, I will be forever grateful.

“There are too many people to name who swept in and ensured that our family remains healthy and happy,” she added. “Much of what has been done for us is personal and ongoing.”

Ms. Carbon offered several examples of the meaningful ways that Island neighbors have supported and comforted her family this year, and described how important to them even small, everyday kindness has been.

“The West Tisbury, Tisbury, M.V. Public Charter School students and staff, and the superintendent’s office staff, wrapped our children tight, and offered the time as well as space to handle our family’s affairs and grieving,” Ms. Carbon reflected.

She expressed appreciation for Ron Rappaport, who, she recalled, had written to Dorothy Gregory about “uncommon decency,” a phrase that has become significant to her.

“I am thankful he placed those words in our mouths at the time of Dad’s death,” she said. “Those words were precise at a time when it was difficult to be clearheaded. They have also made me think a lot about the way I want to live my own life. The words spoken and written to us by so many have been helpful in various capacities.”

Ms. Carbon named Scott Amaral, attendant at the Edgartown transfer station, as someone who made a comforting difference for her — “someone who stood out for me, and he probably never realized it.

“He gave me a hug every time I brought the recycling this past summer, and still asks about my family in a kind way. He and I went to elementary school together.”

“There has been something about former classmates — who knew my father as a teacher and as my father when I was young — that has especially touched me. Scott epitomizes the simple kindness so many people have shown us on a continual basis.”

Tim Gregory took the opportunity to reflect on some of his father’s strong beliefs.

“I once asked my father how he felt about spirituality,” he wrote. “He said he believed that a person’s spirit lived on in the memories of the living. And in that way, he felt, a person never dies. I believe it too — both good and bad — and in my father’s case, nearly always for the better.

“Pat believed that sports held the power to unite and that athletics was often ahead of its time regarding racial equality.

“He was a believer in reserving judgment, and I have met few others as even-keeled.”

Dorothy Gregory offered a poignant reflection on her life during the year since the loss of her husband.

“One way I have gotten through is my grandchildren, Jack and Bess. When I think I’ll never know joy again, I know I have to exhibit hope for their sake.”

Good has come of this

Shannon Gregory Carbon delivered the following tribute at her father’s memorial service at the Agricultural Hall on May 28, 2014, and said she continues to believe in these words:

“Over the past days, without Dad, there has been less laughter and more tears in our lives. The time alone in California with just Tim, Mom, and me was essential. I feel as though my brother and I are rebuilding ourselves together. And, I think that may be the one thing my father most wanted of me.

“So, good has come of this.

“There is anger in our community, I have heard and read it. I am trying, like Dad would, to respect that people need to feel what they feel, say what they say, do what they do. But, so far I am not angry and I am thankful for that.

“Dad was not a man of vengeance. I believe that we must learn from his death. Look around at our loved ones. Make sure we are treating them with uncommon decency. Believe in the potential of all people, not just the fortunate, the pretty, the easy. Do what you can in your own way, do what is right for you. Let’s come together and help strengthen this society of ours, which is ultimately a place of good.

“Obrigada. Thank you.”