New England stories from the region's top public media newsrooms
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Maine creates endowment for Lewiston mass shooting victims

Kyle Secor leaving the hospital surrounded by friends and family.
Kyle Secor via Facebook
Kyle Secor leaving the hospital surrounded by friends and family.

Maine has become the second state, after Virginia, to adopt a Mass Violence Care Fund. It's a $5 million endowment designed to provide ongoing assistance to mass casualty victims, survivors and their families. Both funds were inspired by a father whose daughter was killed in a mass shooting.

Joe Samaha's daughter, 18-year-old Reema Samaha, was sitting in French class when she and 31 other students and faculty were killed at Virginia Tech in 2007. An urban planning major she loved theater and dance and traveling to Lebanon to visit extended family. She was a joy to be around, said her father.

Reema Samaha
Courtesy of Joe Samaha
Reema Samaha, who was killed during a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007.

"There's probably not a person that she didn't befriend. And to her the bigger bigger circle was better a better circle," Samaha said.

After losing his daughter. Samaha said it took him eight years to seek therapy. But like Reema, he came to see just how important it is to have a big circle of people around him.

"It does take a village and you don't heal alone, you heal in community," he said.

Joe Samaha (left) stands with his family, including Reema Samaha, on vacation in 2006.
Courtesy of Joe Samaha
Joe Samaha (left) stands with his family, including Reema Samaha, on vacation in 2006.

There were 177 families and survivors affected by the Virginia Tech shooting. Samaha said one of the many things they wanted to know was who would help them heal their broken bodies, minds and hearts and who would pay for it.

At a ceremony last week to mark the six month anniversary of the Lewiston mass shootings that killed 18 people and injured more than 13, advocate Joanna Stokinger told victims' families, survivors and other community members that there is help for them, counseling group therapy and other resources. It's provided free of charge at the Maine Resiliency Center in Lewiston.

"We are here tonight to remind you that we are here for you. And we have not forgotten" Stokinger said during the ceremony. "We see you and we see that you carry trauma and horrors that only those that share that commonality with you can even begin to grasp the psychological injuries that you endure."

Kyle Secor is among those who survived the Lewiston shootings. He had been playing cornhole at Schemengees Bar and Grill when he was shot multiple times. He spent two weeks in a coma and another month in the hospital recovering, he'll be undergoing his 20th surgery this week.

"I had most of the surgery through my leg and then a lot in the abdomen, but the surgeons unfortunately had to do what they had to do to save my life."

Secor, who played semi professional hockey with the Maine Nordiques, spent five and a half months in a wheelchair. He's now getting around on crutches. At 25, he's a husband and father to two young girls. He was only recently able to return to work at an auto parts store. It's been hard for his family in many ways, he said.

"The kids both go to daycare every day, my wife had to be out of work to help me," he said. "She was my caretaker for the last five and a half months because she was able to work from home for a little bit every once in a while, but for the most part she was out of work as well. So all of our expenses kind of just got put on the back burner."

So far Secor said his insurance has covered his mounting medical bills. And he's grateful to the organizations that raised private donations on his and other victims behalf. But he expects that at some point assistance will run out. Governor Janet Mills said that's where the mass violence care fund can help.

"When someone experiences something like this. There's ongoing pain, ongoing suffering and very likely ongoing medical bills," Mills said. "I can't imagine anyone going through this and doesn't need some kind of ongoing support of a professional sort and this is to cover out of pocket uninsured expenses."

The $5 million for the fund will be invested by the State Treasurer so that it can grow to support the future needs of the Lewiston shooting victims. It will be dispersed through the Maine Victims Compensation Fund at the Attorney General's Office. The fund is modeled on the first one adopted in Virginia last year, at the urging of Joe Samaha.

"People say it's not all about the money when it comes to victims and survivors. But it is all about the money. It is about the cost of care. And so we need to address that. If we are not doing well as a nation for gun violence prevention, then as a society as a government, maybe we should be prepared for the aftermath," Samaha said.

According to the gun violence archive which collects data and research on gun violence in the U.S., there were 656 mass shootings last year. The group defines a mass shooting as an event in which at least four people are injured or killed. So far in 2024, the numbers are trending down, there have been 134.