Night Out in Lewiston Turns Deadly for a Group of Deaf Friends

Josh Seal and Bryan MacFarlane reveled in their Wednesday night outings at Schemengees Bar and Grille in Lewiston, playing on a cornhole team that was all their own.

For their nine-member team, part of a competitive cornhole league hosted by the bar, the weekly matches were a rare and treasured chance to socialize with other deaf adults. On Wednesday evening, not long after gathering with their team, Mr. Seal and Mr. McFarlane were among those fatally shot by a rampaging gunman.

“Some of them were really passionate about the competition, but really, it was just an opportunity for deaf folks to hang out together, apart from the hearing world,” said Mr. Seal’s wife, Elizabeth Seal, who is also deaf and signed through an interpreter. “To be together and communicate with your people in your language — it is priceless.”

Two other members of the cornhole team died, Ms. Seal said, though their deaths have not been publicly confirmed by relatives or the police; two others were injured in the shooting but survived, while three escaped uninjured, she said.

Mr. Seal, 36, worked as an American Sign Language interpreter with the Pine Tree Society, a nonprofit that supports Maine residents with disabilities. During the coronavirus pandemic, he became a recognizable figure in the state as he signed at daily briefings by Dr. Nirav Shah, who was then Maine’s director of disease control and prevention.

Behind the scenes, his wife said, Mr. Seal worked in recent years to establish a summer program for deaf children in Maine, called Camp Dirigo, giving them the chance to spend time with other children like themselves without traveling far from their families.

“For children who are deaf, it’s often isolating,” said Ms. Seal, 35. “You’re often the only deaf person in your school. Camp might be the first time you meet other kids like you.”

Ms. Seal and her husband grew up in different parts of Maine and met as preschoolers, she said, when both attended a program for deaf children. They reconnected in high school and married in 2010; their four children are 12, 9, 6 and 3.

“He was my best friend and my soul mate, my other half,” Ms. Seal said in an interview at her home in Lisbon Falls, 10 miles east of Lewiston, on Thursday evening as her children played and ate takeout pizza in the next room. “It feels surreal. It feels like a nightmare I’m waiting to wake up from.”

She said she hopes the camp that her husband started will be one of his legacies, benefiting their children and others. “I hope it will continue,” she said. “In fact, I’m going to make sure of it.”

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