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Man’s shooting bewilders his family

By Charles E. Potter Jr. - More Articles
Published on 12/09/2001

Norwich – Robert A. Woodward's way of life was as kind and compassionate as the way of his death was sudden and violent, his friends and family said Saturday during a memorial service at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church. They said the chasm in between is filled with mystery and suspicion.

Police officers in Brattleboro, Vt., shot Woodward last Sunday morning after he allegedly pulled a knife during services at the All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church. Witnesses said he came into the West Village Meeting House and asked for “political sanctuary” just as services began. Woodward was struck by seven bullets and died about four hours later during surgery at Dartmouth Medical Center.

Brattleboro police would not comment on the case Saturday. It is under investigation by the Vermont state's attorney's office.

Friends said Woodward, a 1982 Norwich Free Academy graduate, was a political and environmental activist who cared little for material possessions. His parents, Joanne and Paul Woodward, spoke during the service of his love of hiking, nature and life itself.

The last time his parents saw him alive was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. As Woodward was getting in the car to return to Vermont, his dad mentioned a hike he wanted to take. Woodward delayed his return long enough to join the hike and took his parents to a tree that had fallen, yet continued to grow new branches.

“He didn't have a violent bone in his body,” said Evelyn Banas, a longtime friend of Woodward and a fellow member of the Methodist church on Washington St. “He was just a loving person. He was a vegetarian, really, because he didn't want to harm animals.”

Arthur Brown, of Brooklyn, N.Y., called Woodward a “centered” and “simple” person. He said Woodward was a peace-loving person who wouldn't harm anyone or anything.

“He was the most mentally balanced person I know,” he said. “I want to know what happened up there, why killing him became necessary. He is the person you would least expect to meet with something like this. I hope they find out the truth.”

Several members of the overflowing congregation spoke during the service.

Despite being from different areas of Woodward's life, they shared the impression that the man some knew as Bob and others as Woody was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people they knew.

“Woody helped me through high school,” said Quinn Kepes, 19, of Amherst Mass, where Woodward once lived.

“He was a mediator between us kids and our parents. He even helped me with a report on police brutality when I was in ninth grade. Who ever thought he'd be a victim of something like this?”

Chris Wisniewski, who knew Woodward at NFA, said that while Woodward worked on the Appalachian Trail one summer, he wrote her long and thoughtful letters that included drawings.

Drawing was one of his hobbies.

Steve Tomczak and his wife of four months, Mary Ellen Crawford, knew Woodward at Southern Connecticut State University, where they were all members of an organization called Students for Peace.

“He was a groomsman at my wedding and he was always concerned that everyone was having a good time,” said Tomczak.

“He took special care of my 93-year old grandmother. He even got her up to dance. That's just how he was. My grandmother died a little while after that, so that was her last dance. But knowing how much Bob liked to dance, I'm pretty sure it wasn't his last one.”