Nancy Lowell-Cunningham, left, wipes away tears as Rachael Sloat speaks about Peyton Brewer-Ross during the Lewiston shooting commission’s hearing on Thursday. Ross, Cunningham’s brother and Sloat’s fiancé, was killed in the mass shooting on Oct. 25.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

AUGUSTA — Family members of the victims of the Lewiston mass shooting testified Thursday before the governor’s commission investigating the tragedy, sharing poignant details about their loved ones’ hobbies and personalities, their love for their children and grandchildren, and their patience and generosity.

“The stress and trauma is like a continuous nightmare,” said Cassandra Violette, the daughter-in-law of Bob and Lucy Violette, who were among the 10 victims shot at Just-in-Time Recreation. Eight others were killed at Schemengees Bar & Grille when Robert Card carried out Maine’s deadliest mass shooting on Oct. 25. Thirteen other people were injured.

Violette was among the more than half-dozen victims’ family members who testified before the commission Thursday, many expressing frustration with the lack of access the Deaf community had to information in the wake of the shooting, the agony of waiting to get confirmation that their family members had been killed and the hurt they continue to live with.

It was the second public meeting the commission has held to gather testimony. The Maine State Police officials are scheduled to appear at the next hearing on Feb. 15. A spokesperson for the commission said members intend to hold another meeting to hear from the surviving victims, but a date has not yet been scheduled.

The commission didn’t take any action and asked far fewer questions than in last week’s session with the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office. Mostly they listened, and told families they were grateful for their willingness to speak about the shooting publicly.

Lewiston shooting commission members Geoffrey Rushlau, left, and Dr. Anthony Ng listen to testimony from family members of the victims on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“It’s easy to forget incidents that take place elsewhere,” Chair Daniel Wathen said. “They become blurred in your mind. We’ve taken comfort they don’t happen in Maine. Well, this one did happen in Maine and I hope we never forget it because our quest is to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”



Elizabeth Seal, the wife of Josh Seal, spent much of her testimony talking about her frustration with a lack of American Sign Language interpreters and not being able to find out information about what had happened in the shooting’s aftermath.

Seal is deaf, as was her husband, and Josh Seal was one of several members of the Deaf community who were killed.

Speaking through an ASL interpreter, Elizabeth Seal told commissioners about her husband’s good nature and love for his family. He was the director of interpreting services at Pine Tree Society and a certified deaf interpreter who had signed for Vice President Kamala Harris, though Elizabeth Seal said her husband never would have bragged about that.

“He was always out there for everyone else and not for himself,” she said.

Elizabeth Seal lost her husband, Josh Seal, in the Oct. 25 mass shooting in Lewiston. Seal, who is deaf, told commissioners investigating the tragedy that there should have been more access to interpreters. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

She said her mother-in-law, who has limited knowledge of ASL, was the one who told her her husband had likely died in the shooting.


“There should have been an interpreter there at that point,” she said. “This is an issue and we need to be able to address it.”

Megan Vozzella, who also is deaf and spoke through an interpreter, told the commission she had been with her husband, Stephen Vozzella, for 14 years. But in some ways, they were just at the beginning of a new chapter together.

Her husband’s job had just moved him from Boston to Lewiston in 2022, the same year the couple, who gave birth to a daughter in 2011, got married. They were excited to celebrate their first wedding anniversary in November.

“We always said ‘I love you,’ ” Megan Vozzella said. “Every morning. Every night.”

Communication was important to the couple, she said. So the communication issues in the wake of the shooting made an awful situation even more difficult.

At the same time, several families said they have received a lot of help from victim and witness advocates.


Like Vozzella and Seal, Jannette Randazzo spent the evening of the shooting desperately seeking information. But calls to police and hospitals were fruitless.

She and her husband had to wait until the next morning to get the official confirmation that her son Bryan MacFarlane – a man who had overcome widespread bias against deaf workers to become an accomplished commercial trucker – had been killed.

Megan Vozzella testifies Thursday in front of the Lewiston shooting commission. Her husband, Stephen Vozzella, was one of the 18 people who were killed in the Oct. 25 mass shooting. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

By then, she already had heard the news from ASL interpreter and family friend Regan Thibodeau.

“It seemed like the worst way to find out,” Randazzo said. “But she just blurted out: ‘Bryan is dead.’ ”


Kathleen Walker, the wife of Jason Walker, told the commission that her husband’s death happened just days before their 27th wedding anniversary.


Jason Walker didn’t like crowds but had just taken up bowling as a new hobby. He had the patience to pursue an endless number of activities including growing and harvesting grain and home renovations, his wife said.

The night of the shooting, Walker said her husband and his best friend, Michael Deslauriers rushed the gunman, Robert Card, in an attempt to stop the shooting. She said it was something they shouldn’t have had to do given that authorities had opportunities to take Card’s firearms before the bloodshed.

“It should never have taken Mike and my husband to be the first to approach him and try to disarm him,” she said. “Everyone was so scared of this man snapping that no one took action.”

Both Walker and Stacy Cyr, Deslauriers’ longtime partner, said they’ve been left scarred by the trauma of the shooting. Despite tremendous support from friends and family, Cyr said she remains filled with guilt – why did she survive when Deslauriers died? – fear, and sadness for the couple’s four children.

“They should not be terrified or have nightmares and trauma of losing their father due to a mass shooting,” Cyr said. “They should not have to visit a grave on Christmas.”

Kathleen Walker speaks about her husband, Jason Walker, during testimony before the governor’s commission on Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Walker said she no longer feels safe. She locks every door and has installed cameras at her house. And she lives daily with grief.


“It’s the little things that hit you the hardest, like signing Christmas gift tags, ‘From Mom’ after 24 years of signing, ‘From Mom and Dad,’ ” she said.

It’s the same for Cassandra Violette. A nurse who never misses work, she was out for two months after her in-laws were killed.

“Simple daily tasks have become overwhelming and my brain literally feels different,” she said. “I live in what feels like a constant state of fear and anxiety.”

Rachael Sloat, the fiancée of Peyton Brewer-Ross, told the commission about their 2-year-old daughter, Elle, who still looks for and calls out for her father.

“I want her to remember the love he had for her and I want those words, ‘Where are you?’ to resonate in the ears of anyone who hears this,” Sloat said. “Every politician, every law enforcement officer, every registered voter in this country – I want you to hear those words because, my fellow Americans, where are you? You’ve failed my little girl.”



The shootings have prompted renewed conversations about Maine’s gun laws. Gov. Janet Mills unveiled a proposal this week for several changes, including expanded background checks to include advertised private sales, an update to the yellow-flag law to make it easier for law enforcement to take someone into protective custody and a new felony for people who knowingly or recklessly sell a firearm to a prohibited person.

The families who spoke Thursday brought up a need for change, though there weren’t many specifics.

“I don’t know what the answer is or the solution,” Sloat said. “I don’t know if there are laws that need to change or if there’s a fall out in the mental health industry in our country. I hear things about the shooter. We always say things like this don’t happen in Maine, but it did happen. Why did it happen?”

Everyone who spoke Thursday is working with a team of lawyers that is jointly representing the families of most of the victims, as well as other survivors and witnesses, attorney Travis Brennan said.

Members of the governor’s commission investigating the Lewiston mass shooting listen to families speak about the loss of their loved ones Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

He said it was difficult for victims to share their stories. But they chose to do so because they wanted to remember their loved ones and to convey to the commission how much they want systemic changes that will keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill individuals actively making violent threats.

In order to determine what those changes need to be, Brennan said it is important to uncover more details about what officials knew about Card and when they learned it.


“There’s still a lot of information that we believe is out there, and we’re working to get access to, about the full nature of his hospitalization in New York,” he said. “Who required him to go for evaluation? What were the diagnoses? What information was communicated back to the U.S. Army or to law enforcement? All of that is really important information to help us understand system breakdown.”

Members of the sheriff’s office last week defended their response to reports they had received prior to the shooting about Card’s mental health. They said their options for responding were limited, since Card hadn’t committed a crime at the time and they said they were unable to take him into protective custody.

The commission, appointed by Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey, is charged with investigating the facts of the shooting, including the events leading up to it and the police response to it.

A bill to grant the commission subpoena power – which leaders say it needs to compel some people to testify and supply records – was approved by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It needs two-thirds approval in each of the House and Senate in order to be enacted as emergency legislation and take effect immediately.

Commission members had hoped to complete their work within six months, though Wathen said after Thursday’s meeting that he was not sure if that was still accurate and that there have been “some developments” the commission will need to take into account.

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