By Tara Conry
On Monday, the flags flew at half-staff across campus in Hempstead, while the community of Needham, Mass. recovered from burying their former football star and friend. Friends, family and faculty of Gregory W. Gatto shared the grief and bewilderment over the tragic loss of the popular 19-year old. Funeral services were held Saturday morning in Gatto's hometown.
Gatto, a freshman political science and sociology major, graduated from Needham High School last spring, receiving a Pop Warner Football Scholarship. As co-captain of his high school's football team, Gatto led his teammates to a league championship in 2003. He was also a member of the varsity basketball team and earned the title of Baystate League All-Star.
"He was outgoing, gregarious and fun-loving, but what impressed me the most about Gatto was that he was always looking out for the underdog," Dr. Leo Hogan, assistant principal of Needham High School, said. "He would always go out of his way to help people."
Hogan, who knew him throughout his four years in high school, recalled Gatto's excitement at the end of his senior year to attend the University. Hogan added that some members of Needham's football team recently spoke to Gatto, who expressed his plans to meet with them when he returned home for the Thanksgiving recess.
Nassau County Police confirmed that a University student committed suicide, after Gatto's body was discovered in the Twin Oaks residence hall last Tuesday morning.
"Out of all the graduates in the Needham class of 2004, he was the last person I would have thought would do this," Hogan said.
Paul Richards, serving his first year as president of Needham High School, never met Gatto, but said students and faculty described him as a student who excelled both in and out of the classroom.
Richards said that one faculty member stated, "Even if you never had Greg in your class, you knew who he was because he was such a positive force in the community."
"He was universally well-liked and the students and faculty have taken the news very hard and the community will miss him," Richards added.
As the initial shock of the tragedy subsides, he said the community grieves over its loss, but is also questioning Gatto's possible motives in hopes of preventing a tragedy of this nature from occurring in the future.
The Boston Globe reported over 200 people attended Gatto's memorial service last Wednesday night at Christ Episcopal Church in Needham. On Thanksgiving, many members of the Needham community, including former classmates and teammates of Gatto, remembered their beloved captain and friend during the annual Thanksgiving football game against the Wellesley Raiders.
"I didn't want to believe it. He was like Superman to us," Frank Andrews, a former teammate of Gatto, told the Boston Globe. "Everyone liked him, and he would do anything for the team."
The Boston Herald stated that last Wednesday, Needham coach Dave Duffy invited the Gatto family to talk to his team. Duffy said, "[Rich] Gatto came up and addressed the team with his three other sons and told them to go out and try to win the game." Gatto had led the team last year to their best record, ending the season with a 9-3 league title, but was disappointed when the team lost against Wellesley.
At the beginning of the game, a moment of silence was held in honor of Gatto. The close game ended in a victory for Needham, which many of the fans and players attributed to Gatto.
Jeff Hawkins, a freshman marketing major, shared the same sociology, English composition, and economics classes with Gatto, who he said failed to attend these classes in the past month. While walking to class on Nov. 22, he finally saw Gatto on campus and the two exchanged brief 'hellos.'
"He was really friendly, outgoing and easy to talk to," Hawkins added.
Gatto's parents, Richard and Claudia Gatto, were notified about their son's tragedy and traveled from their home in Massachusetts and were escorted by Public Safety to the campus.
Respecting the feelings of the Gatto family, the University refused to disclose the details of the suicide. A mass e-mail was sent throughout the campus last week expressing their condolences to Gatto's friends and family and informing students about the counseling services available on campus.
Gatto's sociology professor, Cynthia Bogard, saw him in class last Monday, hours before he died.
"He looked very pale and he just wasn't himself," she said.
While Gatto did not attend class on a regular basis, especially in recent weeks, Boagard said when he was present he was friendly and engaged.
"He was very bright, thoughtful, articulate and reflective," she said.
The Student Counseling Service is available 24 hours, seven days a week for all members of the community and two "grief and loss program" sessions were planned in light of the Gatto tragedy. The first session was held last Tuesday night in the Twin Oaks residence hall only hours after the news struck the campus. The session provided support for all members of the community who knew Gatto. It was followed by a second session Monday night at the Saltzman Community Services Center. The University also informed members of the community the Counseling Office, located in the Saltzman Center, is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., councilors are available around the clock and can also be contacted through Public Safety.