Amherst Suicide Victim Was A Substitute Teacher

Posted: February 20, 1991

BOSTON — A man who burned himself to death on the Amherst town common in an apparent protest against the Persian Gulf war was identified yesterday as Gregory D. Levey, 30, a substitute teacher.

Authorities said Levey acted alone when he doused himself with two gallons of paint thinner and set himself ablaze Monday afternoon in a protest that horrified onlookers in the center of Amherst, a university town of about 35,000 residents about 75 miles west of Boston.

Levey was the son of Robert Levey, Boston Globe restaurant critic, and the stepson of Ellen Goodman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Globe. The elder Levey had no public statement yesterday, according to Rick Gulla, a

Globe spokesman. Nor did Goodman, who has questioned the wisdom of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf region through her nationally syndicated columns.

At the scene, Levey left his Massachusetts driver's license taped to a handmade sign that said "Peace," according to State Police Lt. Edward Harrington, an investigator in the Hampshire County district attorney's office.

Levey apparently lived alone in an Amherst apartment. Investigators who searched the apartment found no suicide note or other indication of motive, Harrington said.

"He was alone," Harrington said. "There was, at the time, no other peace demonstration or other formal activity on the common, which in the past has been a location where there have been demonstrations. We know of no one he confided in."

Levey was a 1984 graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English. He was last employed as a substitute teacher at the Hampshire Educational Collaborative in South Hadley. The collaborative is a public, nonprofit agency that provides services to 10 nearby school systems in special education for developmentally disabled students and professional development for teachers. Most of the staff was on vacation Tuesday.

"I understand he was a quiet person, a gentle person, and kept his political views private," said Cecilia Buckley, the agency's director of professional development.

An administrator at the collaborative called him a "gentle and quiet" man. The administrator, who gave her name only as Linda, said Levey "did not seem to be disturbed in any way." She said his death was a shock for the school for special-needs children: "We sat here stunned ourselves."

Matthew Newton-Gaines, manager of a hardware store in Hadley, said he recognized Levey, who had lived in his dormitory at the university, when he came in Monday and bought the paint thinner.

Oblivious to a steady downpour of freezing rain yesterday, scores of visitors came to the site where Levey burned himself. Many of them carried candles or brought flowers.

Shortly after the incident, Pamela Jeffreys, of Amherst, was arrested for trespassing when she tried to lay a wreath where Levey's body lay and shouted: ''This is a symbol of love and life."

Jay Carter, 19, an employee at Bonducci's Cafe, directly across from the town common, condemned the "spectator sport" atmosphere that accompanied Levey's death, saying, "Even the hot dog man rushed down and wheeled his cart over there so he could watch it or make money, I'm not sure which."

Levey was the second American known to have immolated himself to protest the gulf war. On Dec. 9, a 48-year-old Vietnam veteran burned himself to death in Isleton, Calif.

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