Gary Wright’s life forever changed on Feb. 20, 1982.
Wright was driving outside his family-owned computer store in Salt Lake City, Utah, when he noticed a strange piece of wood with protruding nails in the parking lot. Curious, Wright stepped out of the vehicle and picked up the lumber. It was at that moment when he heard a sudden click. Before Wright could question the sound, he was flung back 22 feet.
“It was kind of like being underwater,” Wright recalled to Fox News. “Everything went to slow motion. The best description I could give is that it was like ‘The Matrix.’ Everything around me was just moving really slowly.”
While Wright initially believed he was shot, it turned out he was a victim of Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. The now-77-year-old is serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Florence, Colo., for a series of bombings, most through the mail, that killed three people and injured 23 others over 17 years.
Wright required extensive plastic surgery on his face, as well as three separate surgeries to try and reconstruct nerves, as well as to move tendons in his left arm and hand, the San Francisco Gate reported. Bones had to be rotated to make his hands straight again, as well as “get back what functionality I was going to get.”
Kaczynski is the subject of a new docuseries on Reelz titled “The Lost Unabomber Tapes,” which highlights a never-before-heard prison interview conducted in 1999 where he describes the origins and execution of his personal war against society, as well as his disdain for the FBI. Wright participated in the special, along with Kaczynski’s brother David.
The domestic terrorist gave up a promising academic career to carry out mail bombings to express his belief that technology was the true evil of society. The nationwide manhunt for him spanned 17 years, making it one of the longest and most expensive criminal investigations in FBI history.
Wright had no idea it was someone like Kaczynski who would be behind the explosion.
“I couldn’t hear very well,” described Wright after the explosion occurred. “Everyone started to come out of the building and they all looked shocked. I was trying to read their lips to figure out what happened. I look down and I could see my pants were gone from the knees down. My shoes were gone. Blood was starting to pour down. I tried to look down, but it was difficult. It turned out millions of slivers came off of the wood, like needles, and impaled my neck. When I was trying to bend down, I was actually hitting the slivers, so I couldn’t look down easily.”
“You know, your mom always tells you to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident,” he joked. “Nothing prepares you for the moment the ambulance arrives and they want to cut off all your clothes with your family there.
Wright was Kaczynski’s eleventh victim when he was severely wounded after picking up the peculiar lumber. According to Wright, he was told the debris from the explosion moved about 20,000 feet a second, liquifying some of the metal attached to the wood and transforming into “razor wire.”
“A piece of razor wire went through my arm, separating the nerve that controls your little and ring finger, burning itself into the artery,” Wright explained. “About 200 pieces of shrapnel were removed from my body that day. A piece of nail traced up through my lip… Years later, I was still pulling out [wood] from my body. I would be shaving one day and notice something sharp — it would turn out to be a half-inch piece of wood. There were also micro-fractures on my teeth. I needed full mouth restoration. It was the beginning of many surgeries.”
“Everything is as good as it’s going to be physically,” said Wright. “But that doesn’t include the mental and emotional side to things. Those were more difficult to get through.”
On April 3, 1996, Kaczynski was arrested in a primitive cabin 75 miles east of Missoula, Mont. Kaczynski was described as an unkempt loner in the sleepy mountain town who ate rabbits, lived without power and rode his bike to the town’s library. The FBI moved in after his sister-in-law, who also participated in the Reelz docuseries, recognized his writing in a 35,000-word manifesto published in The New York Times and The Washington Post. At the time of his arrest, Kaczynski had a loaded pistol, bomb-making equipment and journals in his home.
Wright left Kaczynski stunned when he forgave him in the courtroom. Kaczynski, who had never met Wright, dropped his pencil and looked straight at him, shocked by his declaration.
“Some people in my family still don’t understand my decision,” Wright admitted. “Forgiveness is kind of a selfish thing… It’s not about anybody but you… There’s no such thing as closure… It doesn’t mean you can’t move forward. I had to redefine what forgiveness really was. I loved myself enough that I’m not going to let people see me as less than what I could be — less of a person. It took a really long period of time to get to that point in my life."
“But when I did it, it was like the perfect shot,” he continued. “We locked eyes and it was the transparency of ownership. I carried [this pain] for a really long time and now he gets to carry it. I wasn’t angry anymore. It was rough and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but I was ready to move forward. I felt grateful to feel alive. I get up every day, go outside and do all the things he loves. Those things are gone for him now. I didn’t want someone to define my story anymore.”
Wright also went on to forge an unlikely friendship with Kaczynski’s brother, David — one that he said is still strong today. The pair not only participate in speaking engagements about reconciliation but they also vacation together.
Wright said David, a practicing Buddhist, called him a few days before Thanksgiving in 1996 to apologize for his brother’s horrific crimes. It was also David who previously turned in Kaczynski to authorities.
According to Wright, a phone call turned into several conversations and later, a meeting.
“We had some breakfast and spent about three hours chatting about his background, working with kids,” he recalled. “I had coached younger kids and we just got to know each other more. It was odd in some ways, but not unlike two people getting together and learning more about one another.”
While Wright didn’t expect to earn a new friend, he was eager to move forward with his life. He and David have traveled the country over the years to share their story in hopes it will spark conversations about forgiveness and healing after trauma. The two are now considering launching a podcast.
“We want to help people along the way,” said Wright. “I also want to give them a different perspective and what’s possible. It’s never a given that these things could work out like ours did. I understand that. But at least there’s the possibility that something different, something better is out there for you.”
Wright admitted it wasn’t easy revisiting the past. However, he hopes his story will inspire others.
“People have said ‘Wright’s never going to be the same,’” he said. “But you have to keep pushing forward and be the best version of yourself you can possibly be.”
“The Lost Unabomber Tapes” airs Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. on Reelz. The Associated Press contributed to this report.