Vigil held for victims of mass shooting in Lewiston
A vigil was held Saturday night for the victims of the mass shooting in Maine that left 18 dead and 13 injured. (Oct. 28) (AP video by David R. Martin)
The deaths of four deaf people in Maine during last week’s Lewiston shotgun rampage that killed 18 people appears to be the worst mass shooting to affect the deaf community, according to advocates.
Among the dead were Steve Vozzella, Brian McFarlane, Billy Brackett and Joshua Seale, who were playing in a weekly tournament for the deaf and hard of hearing at Schemengees Bar & Grille. Maine has about 1.3 million residents, and deaf advocacy groups say the loss of the four men is especially hard in such a small state.
Experts say the shooting may have been particularly traumatic for deaf and hard-of-hearing survivors because they may not have been known to take cover when they first heard the gunshots, and it was difficult to tell when the shooting ended. or even if nearby friends are alive.
Officials say the shooter, Robert Card, deliberately targeted the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley, where seven people died, before traveling four miles through Lewiston to Schemenjis, where he killed eight. Three other people died after being taken to hospitals.
“It sends chills through our community,” Angela Maria Nardolillo, executive director of Off-The-Grid Missions, an international nonprofit focused on deaf people, said via text message. “When violence hits your community, a community that is so close-knit and yet so vulnerable, it’s bleak.
ASL Interpreter as the ‘Perfect Professional’
Seale was the director of interpreting services at the Pine Tree Society, a nonprofit disability services organization in Bath, Maine. He gained recognition during the pandemic as translator by Dr. Nirav D. Shah, then the top health official for the state of Maine, who is now the top official at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, Pine Tree provided more than 20,000 hours of ASL interpreting services.
Shah said in a statement that Seal helped connect the deaf community with key information: “He was…the literal voice (and face) of the COVID response for the deaf community in #Maine and beyond. He was a consummate professional who helped all of us through a difficult period. I marveled at his ability to interpret what we were saying at the speed of light – even my (terrible) attempts at humor on dark days. He never misses a beat. He will be forever missed and always remembered as a part of Maine history.”
Nardolillo’s nonprofit helps deaf and hard of hearing people during global disasters, and she said she couldn’t imagine a worse shooting in the United States that would directly affect the deaf community. One of her group’s goals is to help first responders better help deaf and hard of hearing people during crises.
She said that during a shooting, deaf and hard-of-hearing people are likely to miss cues such as the direction of gunshots, people yelling for help or to take cover, police response or efforts by paramedics to help the injured.
“Deaf people are the first to be cut off even before a crisis has occurred,” Nardolillo said. “The former interrupt and the latter get help. Imagine a deaf person who has just been shot, he probably won’t hear his friends next to him, not even the breathing, to know who is alive or not, or whether the shooter has left or not.”
Losing an interpreter could cause problems for deaf Mainers
In a statement, Pine Tree representatives mourned the death and the impact Seal’s loss will have on others. Seale was a married father of four.
“The ripple effects of his loss will be felt by countless Maine people,” Pine Tree officials said.
Nardolillo pointed out that Maine is a small state with relatively few resources for deaf and hard of hearing people, and that Seale’s loss will be greatly felt.
“It’s extremely difficult to book a qualified interpreter for basic things like doctor’s appointments and so on, so you can imagine in a time of crisis, well, when we lose an interpreter, the impact is deeply felt on another level in terms of the already incredible lack of access Nardolillo said. “In Maine, where the community is even smaller, this shortage of interpreters can exacerbate the challenges deaf people face on a number of levels.”
The Daily Beast reported that the shooter’s daughter-in-law said he recently got hearing aids and began claiming he could hear people insulting him at the bar.