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Burlington Free Press (Vermont)

Man Dies of a Gunshot Wound at Occupy Burlington, VT

The shooting was apparently self-inflicted

Free Press Staff

Burlington Police respond after a shooting at the Occupy Burlington encampment at City Hall Park on Thursday Nov. 10, 2011. (EMILY McMANAMY, Free Press)

A 35-year-old man died of a gunshot wound at the scene of the Occupy Burlington encampment, according to the mayor.

Police said it will be several hours before they know more, but did say there is no danger to the public. Police said they have recovered the weapon.

Todd Lacroix, an Occupy Burlington organizer, echoed several people on the scene who said the shooting was apparently self-inflicted.

Fletcher Allen Health Care spokesman Mike Noble confirmed at about 5:25 that the man died. He said he could not identify the man because doing so would violate federal privacy regulations.

Burlington officials plan a 6 p.m. meeting in a city hall conference room with Occupy Burlington protesters to discuss the future of the encampment in the wake of the fatal shooting.

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling told occupiers that there must be modifications to the rules of the encampment, which will be discussed at the meeting.

At a police briefing at the park Burlington Deputy Police Chief Andi Higbee said police received a 911 call a little after 2 p.m. of a discharged firearm in the park.

"We do not believe the public is at risk," Higbee said.

Police and rescue personnel swarmed into the park shortly after 2 p.m. A motionless man was removed from a green tent where blood was evident. About a half dozen police cars were at the scene at about 2:20 p.m. Police were seen questioning several people as others standing in the park cried and hugged each other.

Police said they were trying to get a warrant to go into the tent where the shooting apparently happened.

Higbee said a firearm was recovered at the scene, but he declined to describe the weapon.

Hayley Mason of Burlington, who said she has been involved with the Occupy Burlington movement since it established itself in the park October 28, said the man who was shot had been in the park for several days at least.

She identified the man by his first name, Josh.

“I don’t know a lot about his personality. He loves the outdoors. He’s been a member of our community,” she said.

Lacroix said he was not in City Hall Park when the shooting took place, but noted numerous people told him the man shot himself.

Lacroix and Mason said they do not know how the incident will affect the Occupy site.

“This is a crime scene and we are here to cooperate,” he said as a Burlington Police crime investigation van backed into the park.

Mason said there is a real possibility the tents and belongings of people will be removed from the park, but the Occupy Burlington movement will continue in some form.

“We’re not about to stop because of this. We’ll be doing this for Josh. We have to continue this,” Mason said.

At an assembly this evening Josh was described as a "proud veteran" and a "really good soul."

A person at the assembly led the group in call and repeat tribute to the shooting victim. "His death was a tragedy of society," the crowd repeated. "He came here to us, because he really liked the movement and we need to work on the issues that caused these kinds of problems."

Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss said late Thursday afternoon he does not know whether the shooting will affect the city’s policy on the occupation.

“We’re waiting for reports from police and fire,” Kiss said.

City Councilor President Bill Keogh also said no decision has been made yet on the encampment’s future. “I don’t have enough facts to make a decision. I don’t know if it was related to the occupiers or was an isolated incident, so I want more information."

Firearms are not allowed in City Hall Park. Kiss said the shooting raises questions about the easy availability of firearms.

“We need to reflect on guns in Vermont,” he said.

Wednesday night protesters rocked to internationally known gypsy punk musicians from Gogol Bordello. Today protesters are consoling each other.

As of 3:45 p.m., most of the encampment was surrounded by yellow police tape and nobody was being allowed inside to access their tents or belongings.

John Briggs contributed to this report.

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