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Lewiston shooting victim ate the same meal at the same cafe each week. Now friends are paying a unique tribute

Thousands turned out on Sunday night at a Maine basilica for a vigil remembering those senselessly killed days earlier by the state’s first mass shooter – as friends and family remembered loved ones with smaller, beautiful gestures, as well. Andrea Blanco and Sheila Flynn report from Lewiston

Saturday 04 November 2023 12:39 GMT
Mourners at the Lewiston shooting vigil
Mourners at the Lewiston shooting vigil (Andrea Blanco / The Independent)

The morning after Maine authorities lifted a shelter-in-place order upon discovery of the fugitive shooter’s body, popular Lewiston breakfast spot Dubois Cafe reopened.

Beloved regular Ronald Morin, who came in most Saturdays to entertain staff with his dad jokes as he ordered the same meal, wasn’t there.

But his friends were.

“They filled up this entire corner of the restaurant, and they all got something similar – so he would typically get a ham and Cooper cheese omelet, hash browns on the side, no toast typically, and bacon on the side,” waitress Alyssa Black told The Independent on Sunday. “Everyone came in yesterday, and they got pretty much his meal – the bacon on the side, no toast, no sides.”

Ron Morin (Facebook)

Ms Black, 33, had loved serving the 55-year-old, describing him as “a treasured member of the community” who regularly spoke about his children and “was just a beacon of light and fun and such a wonderful gentleman.”

Mr Morin was among the 18 people killed Wednesday night when 40-year-old Army reservist Robert Card opened fire at a Lewiston bar and a bowling alley, injuring 13 more and forever scarring Maine’s second-largest city.

“It was hard coming into work yesterday,” says Ms Black, a mother of two young boys and a Maine native, describing the mood amongst Mr Morin’s friends and the cafe staff as “heavy but light.”

“We’re finally ready to move forward. So it was sad and heavy; we feel it in people’s hearts and in people’s spirits,” she said. “But people were happy, because people were excited to come together again, and they were excited to celebrate him – because what the shooter took from him, we can never get that back. So we wanted to celebrate him in who he was, and he was a wonderful, wonderful man.”

She spoke to The Independent at the end of the morning rush on Sunday; Dubois Cafe was offering free meals for first responders, and a “Lewiston Strong” jar had been set on the counter for collections “to benefit victims’ families.”

A jar collecting tips for families of victims (Andrea Blanco / The Independent)

Locals were fortifying themselves for more memorials and upcoming funerals; thousands of Mainers from near and far headed to a vigil Sunday night at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. The church holds 2,200, but authorities had already set up a large outdoor screen on church grounds to deal with overflow before services began.

Almost everyone walking into the Basilica had some personal connection to the tragedy in the tight-knit New England community.

Greg Hird at the vigil (Andrea Blanco / The Independent)

Greg Hird, 38, had played in the same bowling league as Tricia Asselin and regularly bowled with her. When he heard the news of the shooting, he called her phone eight times — but no one answered.

“She was just the greatest person ever,” said Mr Hird, weeping as he spoke about his friend. “No matter what was going on in her life, she would give everything back. Truly the sweetest woman I’ve ever met.”

Debbie Tibbetts outside the Lewiston vigil (Andrea Blanco / The Independent)

Lewiston grandmother Debbie Tibbetts, 57, was grappling with a range of emotions as she walked into the vigil. Her husband had also been friendly with Ms Asselin, whom he knew from a local golf course; on top of that, Ms Tibbetts’ grandchildren used to play in the same bowling league present the night of the shooting at Just-In-Time Recreation.

“By the grace of God, my daughter didn’t sign them up – so they could have been there,” Ms Tibbetts said, adding that her grandchildren were “still very scared ... they’re not sleeping in their beds.”

The children had been very fond of Bob Violette, who ran the youth bowling league, and his wife, Lucy; both were killed in the Wednesday night massacre.

Inside the basilica during Lewiston’s first major vigil for the shooting victims (Andrea Blanco / The Independent)

“They were just really sad, and it was really hard for them to believe that he’s not here,” Ms Tibbetts said. “They really haven’t spoken much about anything else but their sadness ... they find it hard. They can’t believe that somebody would do this.”

Angela Swenson, 40, lives just over five miles away in Minot – but she attends church in Lewiston, where her son was actually meeting with a youth group on the night of the attack. He and the others went into lockdown, which was “really scary, for you to have your child not with you in a situation like that,” she told The Independent on her way into church.

Maine mass shooting survivor says he hid inside bowling lane to escape gunman

Ms Swenson was attending the vigil “to show these people that we love them and that they’re not alone – and that this doesn’t affect just them,” she said. “It affects all of us, even towns away, counties away. We feel this as a deep hurt, and we all, I think, are just here to show those people that we love them and we’re hurting with them.”

Christy Gardner, wrangling a support dog out of her vehicle, said she’d been hearing similar things from parent friends. The Lewiston resident is founder and CEO of Mission Working Dogs, which trains dogs for mobility assistance and PTSD as well as therapy dogs. The dogs were needed in full force on Sunday night after locals had spent days “trying to process the grief, trying to figure out how to talk to their kids about what happened,” she told The Independent.

Ms Gardner, who was accompanied by her mother, another Mission Working Dogs member and four support canines, said she expected the evening to bring “a whole lot of emotions, I think, both for our volunteers and for the folks that we’re going to interact with tonight.

“Our people need to try to keep a level head and not show their emotions as much, but I have a feeling it’s going to be hard,” she said.

Hundreds turned out to the Lewiston vigil (Mohamed Awil)

Vigil attendees heard from the Bates College Choir and area faith leaders, the speakers stressing Lewiston’s diversity, unity and strength.

“We gathered together this evening because there is love still in this place,” Rev. Sarah Gillespie of Androscoggin Home Health Hospice told those assembled. “A love that cannot be gunned down. A love that cannot be affected.”

At one point, in a nod to the four members of the deaf community killed on Wednesday, mourners were asked to sign “I Love You.”

There was undeniably an outpouring of love on Sunday, mixed with grief, shock and fear, but there was also a resounding message heard from residents over and over in all the days since the shooting.

“We never expected something like this to happen,” Ms Tibbetts told The Independent Sunday evening – echoing many others before her.

Back at Dubois Cafe that morning, Ms Black reiterated that the town’s strength and unity had been overwhelming – but Lewiston was still forever changed.

“Honestly, our community will never be the same,” Ms Black said. “Because it brings to light; This could happen anywhere. Maine is inherently a nice, neighborly state. It could happen anywhere. So the realism of that is scary.”

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