Joshua Seal, center, signs for Dr. Nirav D. Shah, left, as Maine DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew listens from the right during a CDC briefing in Augusta in 2020. Seal was one of two on-screen interpreters for the daily briefings. Andree Kehn / Sun Journal file photo

Maine’s tight-knit Deaf community is reeling after four friends were killed in the mass shooting in Lewiston Wednesday night.

Joshua Seal, Bryan MacFarlane, Billy Brackett and Steve Vozzella, all of whom are deaf, were playing in a cornhole tournament at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston when a gunman burst in and opened fire, killing them and injuring other members of the Deaf community, according to a family member. Eighteen people were killed in shootings at the bar and a nearby bowling alley. The suspect, Robert Card, was found dead in Lisbon Friday night.

“Our community is grieving,” said Karen Hopkins, executive director of the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf/Governor Baxter School. “Our Deaf community is extremely close-knit. We’re like family.”

Seal was a married father of four from Lisbon Falls. He was director of interpreting services of the Scarborough-based nonprofit Pine Tree Society, which offers services and support for people with disabilities. He was also a sign-language interpreter for Maine officials during televised daily briefings amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Janet Mills called him a friend.

“I am heartbroken for the families of these victims,” Mills said in a statement. “I ask Maine people to join me in reading their stories, learning who they were, celebrating them as beloved people and mourning them as irreplaceable.”

Seal appeared in the COVID briefings alongside former Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah.


“[Seal] was a consummate professional who helped all of us navigate through a tough period,” Shah said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “I marveled at his ability to interpret what we were saying at light speed — even my (awful) attempts at humor during dark days. He never missed a beat. He will be forever missed and always remembered as part of Maine’s history.”

Seal’s wife, Elizabeth, called him the “world’s best father.” His youngest child is 3 and Seal dropped him off at the Governor Baxter School on Mackworth Island in Falmouth for preschool the morning off the shooting.

“He was always there for them, lending an eye or a hand and going to their sporting/extracurricular activities,” Elizabeth Seal wrote in a Facebook post. “He always loved spending time with them, traveling, going for a day trip to the beach, or going camping for the weekend. Not only was he an amazing father, he was a wonderful husband, my best friend, and my soulmate. He was also a wonderful boss, an incredible interpreter, a great friend, a loving son, brother, uncle, and grandson. He loved his family and always put them first. That is what he will always be remembered for. We love and miss you so, so much already.”

Seal was known for playing Santa for holiday events at the Governor Baxter School. Hopkins said he was a mentor for other Deaf children.

“Joshua was a second father figure to many,” she said. “He was a wonderful advocate in our community.”

Pine Tree Society President Noel Sullivan said Seal created the Dirigo Experience, a summer camp experience for Deaf youth.


“He made communication and understanding possible in countless situations as an interpreter, mentor and tireless advocate,” Sullivan said. “He was committed to breaking the cycle of isolation and creating safe space for Deaf people.”

Those in the Deaf community said events like cornhole tournaments and holiday gatherings are an integral part of the culture.

Mike Dyndiuk’s 38-year-old deaf son, Chris, was at Schemengees when the shooting happened and escaped unhurt.

He was within 10 feet of this guy,” Dyndiuk said of the shooting suspect.

He said his son is devastated.

“This has been a really tough thing for him,” Dyndiuk said. “This is his world. … He doesn’t get to do the everyday talking with people. His group is so small, and four of them have already been taken out.


These people that died, they’re the same ones he went snowmobiling with. It’s going to be a long recovery.”

He added, “The Deaf community has a lot of struggles. And this is going to be another one.”

Bryan MacFarlane. Courtesy of Keri Brooks

MacFarlane, 40, grew up in the Portland area and was one of the few deaf people to obtain a commercial truck-driving license. He recently returned to Maine after stints in Vermont, Ohio and North Carolina to be closer to his mother, who lives in Lewiston, according to his sister, Keri Brooks, of Florida. He loved riding his motorcycle, camping, fishing, hanging out with Deaf friends and his dog, M&M (named after his favorite candy), who regularly joined him on his travels as a commercial trucker, Brooks said.

“His greatest life achievement is obtaining his Class D trucking license,” she said by text. “He was the first Deaf person to do so in Vermont, one of the very few Deaf people nationwide to obtain such a license.”

Billy Brackett with his daughter, Sandra, and wife, Kristina. Courtesy of Kristen Smith

Brackett, a Brunswick resident, was a married father of a 2-year-old girl and worked as a FedEx package handler.

“We are saddened by the tragedy of losing such a gentle soul,” his family wrote in a GoFundMe campaign. “He loved darts, and has been competing for years, he loved cornhole, enjoyed fishing and hunting.”


Vozzella, 45, was a married father of two and a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. He was preparing to celebrate his one-year anniversary with his wife, Megan, next month.

“He had much more life to live before it was stolen from him in an all-too-common senseless act of gun violence,” Brian Renfroein, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers union, said in a statement. “Our hearts are with Stephen’s loved ones.”

He was a member of the New England Deaf Cornhole group, which said in a Facebook post that he was an award-winning player who brought “excitement” and a “huge smile.”

Steve Vozzella and his wife, Megan. Courtesy of Maine AFL-CIO

“He will be missed on and off the courts,” the message read. “NEDC will not be the same without Steve Vozzella playing.”

The group said it will honor him in its upcoming tournament Nov. 18 and make a “generous” donation to his family and the shooting victims.

Members of the Deaf community were organizing donation drives and meal deliveries for the families of the victims. The University of Southern Maine, which has a Deaf Studies program, was collecting donations of food and supplies for the families at its Portland campus.

“The (American Sign Language/Interpreter Training Program) programs at USM are deeply saddened, with so much sorrow, for the lost and injured people from the shooting in Lewiston,” wrote Sandra Wood, an assistant professor of linguistics at USM, in a Facebook post. “We are reeling. Our hearts are so heavy.”

The Portland Press Herald’s Penelope Overton, Emily Allen, Hannah LaClaire and Megan Gray contributed to this report.

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