A Greensboro Massacre shooter requests forgiveness, but maintains self-defense

by Jordan Green

Roland Wayne Wood, the Winston-Salem man caught on television news camera unloading a firearm from the trunk of a car moments before a deadly attack took the lives of five communist labor activists assembled at Morningside Homes for an anti-Klan march in November 1979, has reached out to survivors, the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the media.Wayne is seen in the footage casually retrieving his weapon with a cigarette clenched in his mouth.’“I’ve spoken to him and he has agreed to meet with us and answer any questions that we have,’” said Emily Harwell, the commission’s research director. ‘“He’s almost deaf so, speaking to him on the phone isn’t easy.’”Wood, a unit leader for the American Nazi Party in 1979, expressed regrets about the killings in a news broadcast aired on Nov. 2 by WXII Channel 12 in Winston-Salem. ‘“I knew this was an explosive situation,’” Wood said. ‘“I knew a fight would erupt and I didn’t want it.’”Harwell said she’s not sure how to size up Wood’s performance.’“I’ll tell you that he was extremely emotional and clearly regretful, although it wasn’t clear to me exactly what he regretted,’” she said. ‘“He wasn’t changing anything he said about shooting over people’s head and shooting out of fear. He didn’t appear to be changing anything about his original story. He said when they went there they didn’t intend for there to be any shooting.’”Signe Waller, whose husband Dr. James Waller was killed in the Morningside shootings, said she received a phone call from Wood before the story aired. She declined to describe their conversation.Wood told Channel 12 he didn’t plan to kill anyone.’“My thought was not to shoot anyone, but to make them stop shooting,’” he said. When questioned by reporter Cameron Kent on why he was smiling while he aimed his gun, Wood responded: ‘“I’m always smiling when I’m scared. It was my self-defense mechanism. I was only acting out of survival, fear for my life.’”Harwell said she found Wood’s statement to be a ‘“careful expression of regret.’”According to Kent, Wood said he was ordered to go to Greensboro by ‘“higher-ups,’” but did not elaborate specifically. Speculation has centered on Nazi leader Harold Covington, who has disappeared, and undercover Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Bernard Butkovich, who died in a plane crash.’“What I did was very stupid to went there,’” Wood says. ‘“I can’t justify what I did except I was scared to death and I feared for my life. It should have never happened.’”Kent said, ‘“He expressed remorse for being involved and in particular wanted to apologize to Marty Nathan, the widow of Michael Nathan.According to Mr. Wood, Michael Nathan was one of the last images he recalled as he left the scene that day.’”Wood describes his last look at Dr. Michael Nathan in horrifying terms.’“He was lifting his hands as if to pray, and then dropped to the ground,’” he says. ‘“I thought, ‘Oh my God, no. I think I realized at that moment: People are dead.’”Kent said Wood did not say whether he believed he killed Nathan or any of the other four demonstrators.In the broadcast, Wood looks directly in the camera, and says: ‘“Please forgive me. I didn’t know it was going to happen. I don’t want to die with this truth in me.’”Dr. Marty Nathan, who was reached at the offices of the Greensboro Justice Fund in Northampton, Mass. said on Nov. 4 that she hadn’t viewed the broadcast but understood that Wood had apologized to her.A prepared statement from the Greensboro Justice Fund expresses gratitude to Wood for coming forward and expresses the sentiment that if Wood and other perpetrators are willing to tell the full truth the victims might find some sense of closure.’“Mr. Wood also asks for forgiveness from the victims,’” the press release states. ‘“Granting that is an individual, private affair for those who lost their loved ones and still carry the physical and emotional scars of that day. Honestly, it is neither easy nor assured, but we suspect the process might help some in healing those affected.’”Wood is the first member of the Klan and Nazi caravan to ask forgiveness for his part in the killings.’“I think why Mr. Wood wants to talk is because he’s chronically ill and in failing health, and according to him, very near death,’” Kent said. ‘“He is a born-again Christian, and he told me this has weighed heavily on him ever since it happened, and he has kept quiet all this time. He has been afraid of retribution. He said there have been several attempts on his life.’”To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at