Article Last Updated:
Tuesday, March 19, 2002 - 12:00:00 AM MST
Letters to the editor
Compare the two
Editor of the Reformer: A study in comparisons. As reported in a recent article in the New York Post a fired church custodian returned to the church during morning mass and opened fire with a rifle killing a priest and an elderly parishioner. "The suspect ... was captured in the late afternoon at a nearby rooming house after a seven-hour standoff with cops, who managed to subdue him when he lunged at them with a knife."
Alan M. Merz
This issue won't go away
Editor of the Reformer:
In response to Ray Bellville's letter to the editor regarding Tom Marshall's article detailing Officer Terry Parker's work hours, I feel that the officer's working habits and amount of overtime may have significant bearing upon his ability to safely perform his duties. When we complain about nurses needing to work mandatory overtime, we acknowledge that a tired nurse -- who often holds the life of a patient in his or her hands -- may make errors that could be fatal. Similarly, a tired and overworked police officer may make errors in judgement with fatal consequences, such as the shooting of Robert Woodward on Dec. 2. The question about Mr. Parker's work at the Vernon nuclear plant raises concerns due to the fact that he carries a gun and patrols a controversial site where political activists often protest and take part in civil disobedience. Isn't it questionable that this officer, under investigation for a fatal shooting, works overtime in such a potentially volatile situation? Second, Mr. Belville asks if those of us who complain about the police would like to walk in their shoes. I have no doubt that the police serve a crucial purpose in our democracy and are essential to our safety. I would venture a guess that if one of Mr. Bellville's family members were killed by the police, he would certainly want the responsible officer to be held accountable for his or her actions. In response to Dwight Zeager of Brattleboro who states "enough already about the Woodward shooting and the role of the police officers involved." Enough, Mr. Zeager? I say hardly enough. My best friend was killed by the Brattleboro Police in front of 20 witnesses, all of whom state that they never felt threatened by Mr. Woodward. We are not placing blame on the police officers. We are calling for a transparent and independent investigation, full public disclosure of the findings, the formation of a civilian review board to monitor the Brattleboro Police, and access to the training manuals and procedures used to train and educate the police. Additionally, we are asking for true accountability by the police for their actions. They are not guilty before being proven innocent, but they must be held accountable for their actions. Yes, Robert Woodward holds a great deal of responsibility for his actions. Contrary to Mr. Zeager's compassionless questions, the media has done its best to paint Mr. Woodward as a madman or crazed lunatic. His innocence has been questioned from the beginning and continues to be to this day. For all of the Reformer readers who have tired of this issue being in the papers, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that this issue will not be going away, and we will do our best to keep it in the public eye until justice is duly served. We apologize for the inconvenience, but the killing of our dear friend in Brattleboro is deserving of constant scrutiny and investigation, and this event has obviously shaken the town -- and the state of Vermont -- to its very core.
Thanks for the editorial
Editor of the Reformer:
Having been a friend of Robert Woodward for many years, I have been following the articles you have printed in your newspaper. Your coverage has been an integral part of the ongoing process of getting "everything on the table." In general, I think you have done a good job of covering this important story. In particular I thought your recent editorial connecting Tommy Thomas with Woody Woodward (Reformer, March 11) was exceptional. Sometimes we tend to get caught up in the technicalities of an issue and forget the values of the people involved. You have brought these values to our attention in a concise way. Thank you for your continued interest in this important issue of Woody's shooting. Perhaps someday we will here something straightforward from the police officers and other authorities involved, and when we do, I am sure your paper will print it.
Look again at 'rational' behavior
Editor of the Reformer: Malcolm Ingison, who neither met Woody nor witnessed his killing, nonetheless considers himself qualified to characterize Woody's behavior as 'totally irrational' and creatively postulates wild scenereos to justify the shooting. (Letter Box, March 6) But Malcolm is remiss in failing to provide a scenario to explain why it was necessary for the police to handcuff Woody's arms, one of which was shattered by five bullets. Woody's behavior on Dec. 2 can only be labelled irrational by presupposing that he had not been threatened before he entered the church, a supposition that cannot be defended given the official secrecy surrounding the killing. Usually we consider the accurate prediction of events, like Woody's prediction of is imminent death, rational. Woody was also rational in the ultimately unsuccessful measures he took to protect himself from the attack he feared. He chose to make a plea for sanctuary in a Unitarian Universalist church since that church has a history of honoring the asylum pleas of people fleeing official persecution. He persuaded parishioners to stay as witnesses since killings are less likely in front of witnesses. He attempted to place phone calls to friends and family to identify himself to the parishioners so they would be more sympathetic to him. But more than rational, Woody's behavior was consistent. Woody never even pointed the knife in a direction other than himself. He never threatened anyone else with words or gestures. Even elderly parishioners who could not understand what Woody was saying did not in any way feel threatened by him. Woody was a pacifist who would not hurt a fly, and I see no evidence that he violated his deeply held beliefs in nonviolence on Dec. 2. Malcolm's bizzare scenario of Woody taking a hostage is not plausible to anyone who knew Woody, nor to any of the eyewitnesses I talked to. When the police entered, Woody was sitting next to a parishioner who was attempting to place a phone call for him. If Woody had wanted to take a hostage that would have been his chance. Instead he stood up and backed away. And even if that detail escaped the the police, they still had no reason for panic. They were wearing body armor, were standing between Woody and the parisioners, and could have easily thwarted any movement by Woody with their pepper spray, a tackle, or a shot to the leg.
By disregarding the things Woody said on Dec. 2 as 'irrational' and blaming him for his brutal killing Malcolm belittles Woody's worth as a human being, contradicting the Unitarian Universalist motto, "affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person."
James T. Hoffman
Letter to the Editor:
At first I thought it was a gangland-style execution, that Robert Woodward actually must have been fleeing from mysterious authorities who were out to get him. Then a friend who knows them both assured me that the two men who shot and killed Woody Woodward were ordinary, decent people. Then I tried to imagine how they must have felt, as was suggested in a letter to the editor.
I imagine they wish they had not been on duty that morning. I imagine they wish they could do it over, not using deadly force. I imagine Woody woke up that Sunday morning with an overwhelming premonition of his own death at the hands of authorities. I imagine the police were scared when they entered the church, that somehow they caught Woody's state of mind, that they panicked. I imagine they now might be considering another line of work, one where they're not expected to use guns.
As far as Woody's state of mind, we can only guess. As far as the three police officers, at this point imagination is all we have to go on because they have not yet told us what they were feeling or thinking during and after the incident. The response of the Brattleboro police department has been to clam up and close ranks in protection of their boys who are, apparently, good people and do not deserve to be criminalized even if they did panic. Truthful communication and compassion are the medicine that will bind our collective wounds and actually make this a better, safer community than it was before Dec. 2.
Officers Holbrook, Parker and Davies, are you ready to tell us your truth, including and especially your thoughts and feelings? Are the rest of us ready to listen with compassion and understanding?
Remembering Woody on his birthday
Editor of the Reformer:
Last year around this time, my then husband-to-be turned 40. It was March 24 when Stephen "Zak" Tomczak, Dan Covino, and Robert "Woody" Woodward celebrated their birthdays, as had been tradition for the previous 16 or so years. Geography, age and circumstances did not separate the spirits of these three best friends from celebrating the days of their births, which fell within days with each other.
I am thankful for that special reunion last year. Since then, I have come to appreciate all the special times we spend with those love. My mother died very suddenly of cancer on June 28, 2001. If I didn't press the doctors, they would not have told me in time to gather my family together from different ends of the East Coast, to be able to spend the last few days my mother was alive with her.
Zak and I married in August. At our wedding reception, my grandmother danced with Woody because he overheard her express a desire to join the magic of the dance. While he helped this 93-year-old woman from her wheelchair to gently hobble to three songs, the expressions on both their faces made them seem to float across the floor like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.
I don't know what may have caused Woody to go to the church to ask for sanctuary. And what I really don't understand is why the police shot him, and the manner in which they approached him.
The lessons I have learned from the losses of my loved ones in 2001 is that we should tell people how we feel. We should let them know how much we care and appreciate them. We don't know when our time will be up.
Today, we have the right to ask for peace of mind about Woody's death. We have a right to know what happened. We should be able to get answers from Vermont authorities about this case. I am asking them to please give us the opportunity that Woody didn't have, to have a chance for dialogue, to know information -- a chance to obtain peace within. Today, March 19, I remember my friend's birthday by lighting a candle next to his picture and by asking for truth, as I did when I lost my mother in 2001.
Mary Ellen Crawford