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Version 3.8
Copyright 2001-2008
JusticeForWoody.net site last revised 1/17/06
fair use notice

Killing Reaction Cases Evidence Analysis Media Woody

Rebuttal to the March 2002 U.U. World Article

Here is a point-by-point rebuttal to the U.U. World magazine article. The text of the original article is in typewriter font.

Shooting in Vermont Service

Friends and members of a Vermont UU congregation are struggling to come to terms with the horrific death of a man who was shot by police in front of some of them on Sunday morning, December 2. The man, Robert A Woodman, 37, who had no apparent connection with the congregation, entered the meeting house of All Souls church in West Brattleboro just as the 10 AM service was about to begin. Witnesses said he took the pulpit, saying the CIA and police were after him and would torture him. He appeared to be in a state of panic.

The article omits any mention of the word 'sanctuary' or 'asylum' -- Woody specifically asked for political asylum. Had the article mentioned sanctuary, for which Unitarian Universalist churches are famous, the reasons for Woody entering the church would be obvious to the reader. Woody had many Unitarian friends, and was well aware of the history of UU churches providing sanctuary to victims of US-sponsored wars in Central America in the 1980s.

About 60 congregants were present. Charles Butterfield, church board president and a pianist, was preparing to begin the service at the piano when he noticed Woodward at the pulpit, speaking into the microphone. "I realized he wasn't making any sense." said Butterfield. Butterfield gently asked him to sit down or go with him to a different room. When he refused,

Woody declined to go into a separate room with someone he didn't know because he wanted as many witnesses as possible to his assassination he (correctly) thought would shortly follow.

Butterfield went to the church office and called police while some, including Rev. Deborah Mero, tried to calm Woodward.

Interestingly, none of the five eyewitnesses I spoke with said anything about any attempt Mero made to engage or interact with Woody, even though they describe the actions of Thomas, Italia, and Worley in detail. It appears that Mero left the room early on.

As he continued to stand in front of the congregation, children were escorted from the building. Many adults also left with them.

When someone suggested that the rest of the congregation leave the room, Woodward became more agitated, pulling out a pocketknife with a four-inch blade and saying that he would kill himself. Witnesses say he did not ever directly threaten members of the congregation.

Nor did he ever indirectly threaten members of the congregation -- he never brandished the knife and only pointed it at himself. Witness Norman Hunt said Woody was 'not a threatening person'.

When three police officers arrived about 10:15 Woodward pointed the knife at himself. Witnesses said that two of the offices, after repeatedly asking Woodward to drop the knife, fired seven shots, five of them hitting him as he stood near the pulpit.

Actually about five of the bullets hit Woody as he lay on the floor near the pulpit, according to eyewitness J.B.C. Thomas. And most of the eyewitnesses remember Officer Parker commanding Woody to drop the knife, not asking him.

There were about 15 adults in the room. A doctor in the congregation and a nurse who was visiting that morning immediately attended to Woodward. He was taken to a trauma center where he died about 2 PM.

She immediately attempted to give comfort and aid to Woody. She was prevented from giving effective treatment by the fact that the police, in an act of incredible cruelty, had handcuffed Woody's arms, one of which was shattered, and refused to remove the handcuffs for the doctor. The article also fails to mention that it took 3.5 hours to get Woody appropriate treatment. Any mention of official cruelty or incompetence seems to be taboo to the authors of this article.

Several investigations are under way.

There was only really ever one 'official investigation' and that was fatally flawed from the beginning, and transparently biased in its conclusions.

Woodward lived in Bellows Falls, 25 miles away. There is no indication why he drove to All Souls.

Except that he was in fear of his life, and thought that a UU church was the most likely place to offer him sanctuary based on its history and professed creeds. In fact he very clearly stated to the congregation that he sought political asylum.

He was employed by a community health center, working with foster children. He was unmarried and had no children.

In fact he was part of a close extended family in which he served as an honorary uncle/father to at least one young man whose biological father was absent. The bonds in this extended family were closer than those in most nuclear families. Woody also had many circles of friends. Around 200 people attended his first funeral.

All Souls has had an outpouring of support from the community and UUs across the U.S. and Canada, said Butterfield. "We received plants, flowers, posters, and individual letters," he said. "One congregation sent a whole box of origami (paper) cranes. We made a huge display of all these tributes. It's been very helpful."

Yet not a single picture of Woody was included in their display.

Mero, interim minister of the 115-member congregation, said All Souls held gatherings the week after the tragedy to help friends and members with their feelings. Small support groups were also formed. Other Brattleboro clergy are helping Mero counsel members and a state police counselor has been made available.

The state police may have provided a counselor for church-members, but they have been nothing but obstructionist to the friends and family of Woody, having kept all information from the bereaved or the public for over four months following the shooting. The Attorney General refused to disclose information to the family even under the condition that they sign sworn statements to keep all information in confidence. Nor have the local clergy been notable for their compassion or courage. Of all the local churches only St. Michaels was willing to hold a memorial service for Woody.

A community group, including some All Souls members, has been formed to promote relations among police, town officials, and the community, and to inquire into police training. The meeting room was rearranged, a damaged rug was replaced, and a rededication service was held the Sunday after the shooting.

That 'rededication service' was an act of cruelty and violence against the memory of Woody. During the service Mero lit five candles. they were for the congregants, the police, Woody's friends, and others, but there was no candle for Woody. Then she started talking about the Harry Potter books, asking people if she knew what a dementor was. Then she said "and last week a dementor named Woody Woodward came into our space". This insult was witnessed by several of Woody's friends who had traveled to Brattleboro in a spirit of healing, and who left the room when she made that unbelievable offensive comment.

Some services since then have been in a smaller chapel. After the holidays, the worship committee organized midweek vesper services. Although congregation members have a range of opinions about whether the shooting was justified, they are respectful of each other, said Mero.

So far I'm not aware of any members of the congregation other than Mero who think the shooting was justified; but then, it would be hard to know, given her 'gag rule'.

"Our basic work is to focus on community," she said, "and not to judge one another's stories."

Mero seems intent on diminishing the importance of eyewitness accounts by calling them stories.

"Some people expressed they were truly frightened of Mr. Woodward and what he might do and some expressed that they were not."

The people who were 'truely frightened' of Woody left in the first few minutes. All of the witnesses present when he was killed were there voluntarily.

Another challenge has been that friends of Woodward consider him to be gentle and loving, but that is not what church members witnessed. "The man we saw that morning was an extremely frightened man who appeared to be having a psychotic episode," said Mero. "He pulled out a weapon and would not relinquish it."

[sarcasm on] Yes it has been a real challenge, Mero, to justify the shooting given all of Woody's friends. If only he were a loner with no friends, it would have been so much easier to dispose of this whole messy business. And it's inconceivable that a frighted man, much less one having a psychotic episode, could be gentle and loving. [sarcasm off] Point of fact (according to Polly Wilson): Jane Worley told Woody to put away the knife, telling him he was scaring people, at which point Woody put away the knife, looked Jane in the eye and said to her, "I'm sorry". Mero did not witness this nor most of what happened, in-spite of the fact she is so willing to speak for the whole congregation.

She said church members did what they felt was appropriate. "Someone you don't know walks in and is ranting," Mero said, "and will not let you calm him-do you not call the police? It was a no-win situation. We couldn't have done anything differently. We had people in our congregation, in that room, who were mental health professionals and they were unable to calm him."

Point of fact: Michael Italia approached Woody, and succeeded in getting him to sit down behind the podium next to him, and helped him to make phone calls. According to Polly, everything was going wonderfully at that point. If only seconds more had been allowed to pass before the police entered, Woody probably would have reached friends or family on the phone, which would have further diffused the situation. The 'no-win situation' comment is a back-handed accusation of a danger Woody posed that is unsupported by the accounts of the actual witnesses.

the Robert Woodward Memorial Fund was created by All Souls and Woodward's friends and family with donations to the Vermont Natural Resources Council. Contributions, and gestures of support for the congregation, may be sent to the church at P.O. Box 2297, West Brattleboro, Vermont 05303-2297.


page last modified: 2005-03-06