Andrew Wurst’s classmates are now in their senior year of high school, anticipating their next graduation celebration and taking another big step toward adulthood. For them, the events of April 1998 seem almost a lifetime ago. Time has moved on, and so have they. In fact, four years after John Gillette’s death, there is a general sense in Edinboro that the whole community is ready to move on. Most of the people we met see the shooting as a bizarre and puzzling aberration, largely disconnected from the fabric of their lives. For them, the story of what happened at Nick’s Place boils down to this: Andrew Wurst was a troubled boy from a troubled family, and he happened to live here. He committed a horrible crime, and he deserved to be punished. People expressing this viewpoint often spoke of parents needing to provide stricter moral guidance and to stay better connected as their children move into adolescence.
We met a few people, however, who expressed dismay about the prevailing desire for life in Edinboro to return to normal. They believed fervently that there was still much soul-searching for the community to do, that there were still more lessons that needed to be reflected on and absorbed. What does it mean, they seemed to be asking, that Andrew Wurst could not feel he was part of a school community that valued him? What does it mean that so many people could not look beyond this horrible crime and see a boy who was mentally ill and needed treatment and who might be saved? What does it mean that the Wursts felt shunned by a community that they had been part of for so many years? Without for a moment forgetting the sorrow inflicted on the Gillette family, why could people not see that the Wursts were suffering, too?
When Catherine Wurst gazes at Andrew, she does not see evil, or even a criminal, but a boy who became desperately ill and didn’t get the help he needed. In her view, Andrew is still not receiving that help. After battling state prison officials to improve Andrew’s therapy, she has become a member of the Pennsylvania Prison Society and an advocate for prison reform. She refuses to believe that Andrew is beyond redemption. She visits her son frequently, concerned about how well he will endure his long sentence, but also hoping that with proper psychiatric treatment, coupled with her love and continued attention, Andrew might come out of prison at age 45 with a hopeful future. Whether that can happen, and whether the town of Edinboro can accept that if it does, is the next chapter of the story.
We wish to thank the students, teachers, school administrators, community residents, town officials, police investigators, lawyers, court officials, and journalists who met with us or provided background materials