WASHINGTON — Kristy Strout has worn her husband’s wedding ring on a silver chain around her neck since the week after he was killed. She sometimes rubs her thumb along the smooth metal when she talks.

In the halls of the Longworth House Office Building on Thursday she realized that Elizabeth Seal and Tracey Walker were wearing their late husbands’ rings, too.

“When I saw that I was like, ‘Oh wow, they have it, too,’ ” said Strout.

Joshua Seal, Artie Strout and Joe Walker were killed at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston on Oct. 25 when gunman Robert Card carried out Maine’s deadliest mass shooting.

The three women, along with Artie’s and Joe’s fathers, Arthur Barnard and Leroy Walker, and Alan Nickerson – who survived the shooting – spent the day on Capitol Hill lobbying Maine’s congressional delegation to push for an independent investigation into the Army’s role in the events leading up to the shooting that killed 18 and injured 13 others.

From right, Elizabeth Seal, Tracey Walker and Kristy Strout, back left, walk to Sen. Angus King’s office for a meeting in Washington on Thursday. All three women lost their husbands in the mass shooting at Schemengees Bar & Grille and all three wear their wedding rings around their necks. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The morning was something of a blur. It sounded like the squeak of shoes on spotless marble. It was one vast hallway and clusters of bustling suits after another. But the moments of awe were bookended by emotional meetings in which the members of the group shared their grief and trauma over and over and over again.


Barnard and Strout hadn’t gotten back to their hotel from the National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence until after 11 the previous night. After about five hours of sleep – Barnard said this was “pretty good” compared to how much he’s been sleeping since his son was killed – they checked out of their hotel and made their way to meet Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, at 8:20 a.m.

The pair slipped into the meeting just as it began. Their lawyers, Ben Gideon and Travis Brennan, had already arrived with the rest of the Maine families.

From left, Arthur Barnard, Kristy Strout and Tracey Walker ride the U.S. Capitol subway on their way to a meeting with Sen. Susan Collins. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Almost an hour later, the group emerged back into the hallway. Golden declined through his spokespeople to talk about the meeting. He has largely remained quiet on the shooting that ravaged his hometown since announcing his support for an assault weapons ban – a massive reversal of his previous stance on the issue.

“The time has now come for me to take responsibility for this failure,” he said at a news conference the night after the shooting.

It was time for the families to go to their next meeting.

They squeezed together into a bronze elevator and sank into the depths of the building where a guide led them through a tunnel of cream-colored bricks. Artwork from each state was on display along the passageway.


“My daughter would love all this art,” Strout said as she walked.

The group was quickly shepherded through a security checkpoint, where they were given badges granting them access to the underground network that members of Congress and their staffs use to go between the Capitol building and their offices.

They boarded the makeshift subway system, which Barnard said looked like a set of golf carts running along train tracks.

Sen. Angus King walks with Leroy Walker, left, and Elizabeth Seal, center, after meeting with them and other Lewiston families in his office in Washington on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“They move along pretty fast, too, and it’s not just one track. I think they have a special track for the senators,” he said as the train jolted into motion.


The group met with Sen. Susan Collins next, then Sen. Angus King. Last, was Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.


Gideon and Brennan explained that the focus of this trip was to push the Inspector General to investigate the U.S. Army’s involvement in the shooting. There is already an internal investigation by the Army, but the lawyers emphasized the importance of an outside investigation.

Card was in an Army Reserve unit in Saco, where his squadmates expressed serious concerns to local police that he was having psychotic episodes and hearing voices. He later spent two weeks in a psychiatric hospital in New York. His supervisor told police he never sought further treatment.

“In this case, because the red flag warning signs were primarily known to the Army and Army Reserves, having them investigate themselves is like a fox guarding the henhouse situation. … It’s not a good idea to have the investigation conducted by the body under investigation,” Gideon said.

A spokesperson for the Army declined to discuss the internal investigation Thursday.

“The Army is in close contact with the Maine delegation and is committed to addressing their questions,” Bryce Dubee said in an email.

Speaking after he met with the families, King said, “there were more than a few tears in the room.”


“There is so much we need to do and so much we need to know,” he said, pointing to the bill he introduced last week – the GOSAFE Act – to limit high-capacity magazines so they could fire no more than 10 rounds and outlaw devices that convert regular guns to hold higher capacities, like bump stocks.

Collins has yet to take a position on King’s bill and in a brief interview outside her office Thursday again would only say that she would continue to review it. She said the families she met with did not bring it up.

Sen. Susan Collins prepares to give a statement to members of the media Thursday after meeting with a survivor and families of victims of the Lewiston mass shooting in her office in Washington. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

On larger gun reform, Collins was again noncommittal. She said she supports universal background checks and outlawing bump stocks, but she described existing proposals to ban assault rifles as “complicated.”

The senator said she was moved by her conversation with the families.

“The pain that these families are experiencing is deeply affecting. They are facing their first Christmas or other holidays without their loves ones. They described their lost ones in great detail so you felt that you really knew them,” Collins said.

As for the investigation by the Inspector General, both King and Collins say they support it and sent a letter asking for such an investigation on Nov. 2.


“It appears to me evident that the Army should have triggered either New York state’s red flag law or Maine’s yellow flag law, both of which would have resulted – in my judgment – in Robert Card losing access to all his weapons,” Collins said.

Strout said that the meeting with Collins stood out. She said she was impressed with the letter.

“She was just like, ‘I’m gonna get in there and I’m gonna do it,'” said Strout. “I’d heard she wasn’t for gun control, but hearing her today it seems like she has a totally different view on wanting to help.”

The group from Maine attends a news conference in the Washington office of Rep. Chellie Pingree on Thursday. Front row from left, an American Sign Language interpreter sits next to Elizabeth Seal, the wife of Joshua Seal, and Alan Nickerson, who was shot at Schemengees Bar & Grille on Oct. 25. Back row from left, Leroy and Tracey Walker, the father and wife of shooting victim Joe Walker; Travis Brennan and Ben Gideon, attorneys representing the families and victims; and Arthur Barnard and Kristy Strout, the father and wife of Arthur “Artie” Strout. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Pingree said she supports an independent investigation, but she has loftier goals. She noted that she has long supported universal background checks, assault weapon bans and other gun safety measures, but now she feels more responsible for working toward passing these reforms.

“There is something different about when it hits your home in your state,” she said. “I’m responsible now to share that story.”

After decades of watching the needle barely move on gun reform, Pingree said she has hope that this group of families will see the impact of their efforts much sooner.


“Something I’ve learned being in public office is that you never know when that day is that something shifts. Like you never can say, ‘That’s never going to happen.’ Because there’s eventually a time it does happen. We change laws, we reform things. There were eras when people said gay marriage was never going to happen. You have to have hope. I absolutely do,” Pingree  said.


The families said they walked away from the meetings largely optimistic.

Kristy Strout takes a photo of the White House on her way to a meeting with the Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

They lined up in Pingree’s sweltering Congressional office – the radiators are powerful in that side of the building, her staff said – to speak with national and local media about the visit.

“My hands are sweating like crazy,” Barnard said. He stood with his arm around his daughter-in-law behind a brown leather couch where some other families sat.

“I believe what they say to us,” said Walker. “In the end, I think we’re going to get some answers. … We’ll wait awhile but if that while gets too long, then we’ll probably be back.”


Seal said the delegation left her hopeful.

“We can’t start out healing journey until we have all the information. Today I feel like we’ve gotten support for the IG investigation, and I’m grateful for that, but I want to see action. Words are just words and I want to see them see it through,” said Seal, who is deaf, through an interpreter.

Seal also emphasized the pressing need for accessible information for the Deaf community and she shared her frustration at the lack of information available to the Deaf community in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Leroy Walker walks outside the Capitol Complex after spending much of Thursday meeting all of the Maine Congressional delegation. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“Even in that first hour we had communication issues that left us completely in the dark,” Seal said.

Nickerson said he was “very grateful” that King had promised to “poke the bear” about the independent investigation.

The group then proceeded to Old Ebbits Grille, where they ate lunch with their lawyers. The place was cavernous with one room opening out into another, murals were painted on the ceiling above a mahogany bar. Their table sat in an open atrium near a towering tree wrapped in tinsel. Barnard and Strout both ordered fettuccine alfredo.

The group ate quickly before walking to the Executive Office building to meet with the newly formed White House Office for Gun Violence Prevention.

By the time Barnard and Strout emerged, the city’s monuments were lit up.

“I hope they listen to us, but I’m not going to stop coming back. Next year, I’ll bring my 14-year-old daughter and they can hear it from her. Because she’s a force of nature and she wants answers,” Strout said.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.