Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Justice for Woody Records
Robert "Woody" Woodward was a political and environmental activist, social worker, teacher, and mountaineer who lived throughout western Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont. On December 2, 2001, Woody entered the All Souls Unitarian Church in Brattleboro, Vermont and requested political asylum from the congregation. He claimed that the CIA was following him and that his life was in peril. Despite the fact that Woodward made no threatening moves or statements, his extremely agitated state raised concern with some members of the congregation. Many adult members of the church voluntarily left while all of the children were escorted from the building. Woody then threatened his own life by removing a pocket knife and vowing to kill himself if people continued to leave the sanctuary. Several congregants mutually decided that calling the police would be an appropriate course of action, and the president of the church phoned a dispatcher.
During this time, a number of parishioners voluntarily remained in the sanctuary after Woodward's threat to commit suicide. Some of these witnesses say they stayed because they didn't want Woodward to harm himself or others; some say they chose to remain because they wanted to help him. Woody continued to try to provide evidence to support his claims, and volunteered to call friends who could verify his story. One of the witnesses who remained in the church dialed several phone numbers on Woody's behalf, but no one at these numbers answered. The last phone number dialed was a call to an old friend, Mary Rives, whose answering machine picked up and captured the final moments of the scene in the church.
Before the officers arrived at the church they were informed that an unidentified man who had a problem with the police was preaching gibberish and threatening 60-70 people with a knife, however, no briefs to the outside witnesses were made by the incoming officers. Eyewitness reports vary concerning the events that followed. Some witnesses claim that Woody lunged toward the officers, while others say they are unsure what provoked the police to use their weapons. All of the officers on the scene stated that Woody rushed toward Officer Parker with the intent to kill him, and that they fired their guns to prevent this. It is clear, however, that within the first minute of the arrival of the officers at the church seven shots were fired at Woody. Medics arrived and transported Woody to the hospital, where he died later that night.
The 18 eyewitnesses from the congregation submitted written statements on December 2nd. All but three of them were interviewed by police detectives before their departure from the church that day. The EMTs did not complete and submit their statements until December 21st. The police officers, however, were directed to return to the station before being asked to fill out statements on December 2nd. At the station, they were permitted to fill out their written reports in the same room. The information on Woody's medical treatment and autopsy results were never released.
The organization Justice for Woody (JFW) was formed in December of 2001 in the weeks immediately following his death. The group's original members included individuals from Vermont and Massachusetts who believed that Woody's shooting was both preventable and unjust, and that the investigation that followed was incomplete and biased. (JFW) seeks not only to honor Woody's legacy, but also to advocate for a fair an independent investigation. To that ends, the group has obtained eyewitness evidence from the Attorney General's office following the April 2nd release of the Woodward Shooting Report exonerating the shooters. Using this evidence, JFW created its own report, which provided a detailed account of the shooting, and exposed aspects of a cover-up in Attorney General Sorrell's report. The JFW report was presented at a press conference in September of 2002, which was reported throughout the Vermont media. JFW continues as an active organization fighting for a full and fair investigation of Woody's death, and increasing awareness throughout the community.