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Church Killing Puzzles Friend
December 7, 2001
By GARY LIBOW, Courant Staff Writer

The death of a former Bozrah man shot by police last weekend in a Vermont church has left a close friend baffled and angry.

Robert Woodward, 37, was gunned down Sunday at the altar of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Brattleboro after making threatening moves with a knife toward authorities, according to police.

Woodward grew up in Bozrah, and attended Norwich Free Academy and Southern Connecticut State University.

Stephen Monroe Tomczak of Wallingford said his friend, known as "Woody," was a gentle man who did not deserve to die violently at the hands of police.

Tomczak, who teaches at the University of Connecticut, joined a growing group of people who are calling for an independent investigation into Woodward's death.

Woodward, who was in Tomczak's wedding party in August, had never exhibited any signs of mental illness or distress, and was not known to drink or take illegal or prescribed drugs that might have affected his behavior, Tomczak said.

Woodward had traveled to a church known to open its arms to the downtrodden and mentally ill on Sunday.

Weeping before a congregation gathered for a service, Woodward asked for "political sanctuary." He was asked to take a seat or leave, and reportedly pulled the knife.

Tomczak has trouble believing those accounts, which he calls completely "out of character" for a man he has known since 1983, when they met at Southern Connecticut. The two friends last saw one another Nov. 23.

"Woody was his regular, stable, normal self," Tomczak said. "Woody was an extremely peaceful, kind and gentle human being."

At a Thursday press conference in Brattleboro, State's Attorney Dan Davis reported that Woodward was struck by seven shots fired by police and died of a wound to his abdomen.

Vermont's attorney general is investigating the shooting, and a grand jury could be convened to determine whether the shooting was justified.

Tomczak said Woodward moved to Vermont in the past year, after living for years in New Hampshire. His mother still lives in Bozrah.

Woodward, a Bellows Falls resident who was single and had no children, was dedicated to children and worked in social services for years, Tomczak said.