Protesters: Veteran shoots self at Vt. encampment
BURLINGTON, Vt (AP) – Police said preliminary investigations show a 35-year-old military veteran fatally shot himself in the head Thursday at an Occupy Wall Street encampment in Vermont’s largest city.
Burlington police said the name of the Chittenden County resident is being withheld because his family has not been fully notified.
The man shot himself inside a tent in City Hall Park on Thursday afternoon. Mike Noble, a spokesman for the Fletcher Allen Health Care hospital in Burlington, confirmed that the man had died. Noble said he could provide no other details.
In a statement issued late Thursday, Occupy Burlington said, “We mourn the loss of a great friend tonight, while discovering an ever-deeper resolve to stand with our most vulnerable citizens.”
Protesters at the Occupy encampment say the man was a victim of inadequate mental health services being offered to veterans.
“This person has clearly needed more help than we were capable of giving him here at this park,” said Emily Reynolds, a University of Vermont student and a leader in the local Occupy movement.
If government provided better mental health services, she said, “this probably wouldn’t have happened.”
Deputy Chief Andi Higbee told reporters the shooting raised questions about whether the protest would be allowed to continue.
“Our responsibility is to keep the public safe. When there is a discharge of a firearm in a public place like this it’s good cause to be concerned, greatly concerned,” Higbee said.
The encampment has been in the park since Oct. 28. The city had threatened to evict the protesters because the park is closed from midnight until 6 a.m., but city officials made special accommodation for the protesters.
Almost two dozen tents have remained in the park, and the number of protesters has varied.
The first Occupy encampment sprang up in New York in September, and the movement has since spread to cities around the country and world. Protesters object to corporate influence on politics and what they call an unequal distribution of wealth.
Burlington is a community of just under 40,000 people on the shores of Lake Champlain known for its left-leaning politics.