LARAMIE, Wyo. — There’s an epitaph etched on a grave marker in row Q on the north side of Green Hill Cemetery in Laramie, a work containing 19 lines and 106 words by Brian Towler’s favorite poet.
He considers it a great piece of undiscovered literature, by an artist reminiscent of none other than T.S. Eliot.
The poem is named after its author, Brian’s son, Adam Towler, who handed it and other assorted works over to his mother in 2006, just weeks before he was killed in one of Laramie’s most brutal crimes, a murder-suicide on Custer Street.
The crime claimed the lives of Adam, 20, Amber Carlson, 19, and their killer, Justin Geiger, 20, by a self-inflicted wound. It robbed Brian of his only son, he said, and deprived the world of an emerging writer capable of creating beauty with his words.
“I consider that the best epitaph poem I’ve ever seen, ever read,” Brian, a Laramie resident and 24-year professor in the chemical/petroleum engineering department at the University of Wyoming, said. “It hasn’t been discovered yet, but one day it will be.”
It’s a cold, wet early Thursday morning and under the steel skies of Laramie, Brian is criss-crossing through town, clicking at a runner’s pace, exceeding six miles per hour.
He’s wearing a ball cap, purple shorts and a grey T-shirt with words written on it, words that state his sole reason for this run and many others over the years.
“For Adam,” it’s written on the shirt. “May you run with the angels.”
There’s not an exact stopping point on this particular 8 1/2- to 9-mile training run.
At least not in this town.
Brian’s real finish line won’t be reached for another three-plus weeks, when he crosses the tape Nov. 4 during the New York City Marathon.
Towler, 61, originally from Brisbane, Australia, was selected for the marathon this year after three previous attempts were unsuccessful. It will be his fourth career marathon — he ran the California International in 2009 and 2010 and the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon last year — and all of them have been in memory of his late son.
Adam, who grew up in Laramie, was a student at Emory University in Atlanta. Had Adam lived, his father believes he would have had a career in foreign service, possibly as a diplomat.
“He was an extraordinary kid,” Brian said. “Extremely smart, but also an extremely empathetic person. . He sort of had this . insight into people. He had an understanding of things.”
Brian said he can’t help but think about what might have been if Geiger had opened up to Adam that tragic night rather than resort to such drastic and final acts of violence.
“I’m sure if he’d have started talking to Adam, Adam would have have helped him with his problems,” he said. “That’s just who he was.”
Brian thinks about his son constantly on runs like today’s, the miles piling up as fast as the memories.
His heart, he said, isn’t bitter toward Geiger, but one trying to mend over his lost boy.
“My job is to make sure Adam’s legacy is not forgotten,” Brian said. “I don’t think about the killer at all. I miss (Adam) every day and I think about him every day. You don’t get over something like that and you don’t expect to get over that.
“You never get closure, but you have to live the rest of your life and that’s what I’m doing. I think I’m dealing with the loss.”
Brian last saw his son July 15, 2006. Adam was back in Laramie from Emory for the summer, enjoying time with his family and reconnecting with old friends.
Adam spent the day building a deck with his parents at the family’s home. Later in the day, a friend called Adam, asking if he wanted to go to a street dance that night.
Adam ended up at his friend’s house after the dance, where Geiger was his roommate.
On the morning of July 16, Geiger, a UW sophomore from Illinois, stabbed a male roommate, shot and killed Carlson and stabbed Adam to death, before taking his own life.
Brian said he woke early July 16, trying to locate Adam, who hadn’t come home. He found his way over to the Custer Street home and found it blanketed as a crime scene.
Still, Brian said, he believed his son was alive, a hope against the odds flickering inside him.
“You just can’t believe your son is dead when he was so alive and vibrant before . and because nothing like this happens in Wyoming and in Laramie.”
Learning that Adam had been killed, he said, “felt like I’d been hit with a shovel, but I had to stay standing.”
Brian said he considered it his duty to be strong, to be pillars upon which his family — wife Shelley and daughters, Sarah, 31, and Renee Clayton, 29 — could rest.
The family’s grief was compounded the next day, Brian said, when he learned Geiger had stabbed Adam multiple times, and Adam had numerous defensive wounds trying to shield himself from the attack.
“When we discovered that, that was even more devastating,” he said. “That’s when I lost it, because he had suffered. He had suffered tremendously.
“His was such a life full of promise.”
Months after Adam’s death, Sarah, an Air Force pilot and veteran of four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told her family she was founding a 5K/10K race in Adam’s honor in Laramie.
July marked the sixth annual Adam Towler memorial race, one of the biggest the community hosts each year.
“When she told me that, I decided that I would haul my fat butt off the couch and start running to get in shape to run in my son’s race,” Brian said.
Two memorial races later, Sarah came back to her father with another challenge — asking him to join her in the NYC Marathon.
Brian, 58 at the time, had never run more than a 5K and had a training regimen of about a mile per day.
The idea of running a marathon, he said, “seemed ridiculous.”
And so began his odyssey in the world of long-distance running, one that will come full circle next month when he competes in New York City, home to one of the world’s most prestigious endurance tests.
“I started running because it helped me cope with Adam’s loss and I feel much better now because I’m running,” he said. “If he had been alive, I know he’d have run marathons.”
His words of reflection today, six years after the tragedy he and his family went through, reveal a man who finds something close to peace while running, as the memory and perhaps spirit of his lost son is a constant companion.
“Every day I go out running, I regularly feel (Adam) running with me,” Brian said. “He’s there. I feel that presence . and I talk to him all the time.”
Information from: Laramie (Wyo.) Daily Boomerang, http://www.laramieboomerang.com