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Volunteers and city workers on Tuesday removed mementos, signs and other items that accumulated at the sites of the deadliest shootings in Maine history, reflecting a change in season and a new chapter in the area’s recovery.
The handwritten signs, cards, bouquets and other items — more than a 1,000 of them — will be archived, cataloged and prepared for exhibition at a museum in Lewiston.
Part of the process is practical: Snowfall makes it imperative to remove the memorials before they’re destroyed by either the elements or plows. But organizers also say it feels like the right time as communities continue to heal and grieve after 18 people were killed and 13 injured on Oct. 25.
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“We want to make sure the community doesn’t forget what happened and how the community came together. So bringing the items together feels like next stage,” said Rachel Ferrante, executive director of the Maine Museum of Innovation, Learning and Labor, located at a former mill building in Lewiston.
The memorials were heartbreaking, and heart-warming: There are dozens of sculptures of hands depicting the American Sign Language symbol for “love,” a nod to four members of the local deaf community who died, and there are countless signs, notes and hearts, along with votive candles from vigils. Some of the more offbeat items include a bowling ball, darts and a miniature cornhole tribute. The victims were shot at a bowling alley and a bar that was hosting a cornhole tournament.
The biggest item was a stuffed moose that is now waterlogged from snow and rain.
The shootings took places days before Halloween, and the removal of items a day after the first snowfall of the season seemed to mark a symbolic change in season.
More than 20 museum workers, volunteers and city workers removed the memorials from three sites — the bowling alley and the bar where the shootings took place, and a busy street corner that became an impromptu memorial.
“We really wanted to save them before they were buried and more snow. And it’s important to the community to do that. To make sure that there’s some remembrance of this tragic event,” said Tanja Hollander, a local artist who’s participating in the project.
The community was traumatized by the killings. The sheer number of dead and wounded meant virtually everyone from the immediate area knew a victim or knows someone who knew one. And the attacks were terrifying, forcing people to shelter in their homes during the massive manhunt for the killer that ended when he was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Then came the funerals over a course of weeks.
The cataloging of memorials has become common practice. Historians preserved such items after other mass shootings, including the attacks in Columbine and Littleton, Colorado, and the nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida.
The goal for Maine MILL, the museum, is to take possession of the items and catalog them quickly so they’ll become accessible to the community.
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There were so many bouquets and pumpkins laid at the shrines that only some of them will be saved. Some of the flowers will be dried and some pumpkins will be scanned and 3D-printed for display at the museum, Ferrante said. The rest will be composted.
City spokesperson Angelynne Amores marveled at the creativity shown by way the victims were memorialized. People from near and far were moved in unique ways, she said.
“There isn’t one size fits all for this kind of tragedy,” she said. “There are so many different ways for people to take that path toward healing.”
There’s nothing stopping people from leaving more items. Ferrante said she expects to remove retrieve more items.
“People can do what feels right of them. What were trying to provide is help and community healing. People need to heal and grieve in whatever way makes sense for them,” she said.