R. Budd Dwyer
Kenn Marshall recalls edging toward the door when he saw the enormous handgun being held aloft by State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer.
Marshall’s movements on that snowy January day 29 years ago weren’t entirely motivated by fear. He was thinking about calling his editor, which is not to say he wasn’t scared.
“To be honest, after what he had just gone through, the thought crossed my mind that he could just turn that gun on the people in the room,” said Marshall, who was then a reporter for The Patriot-News. “I certainly felt threatened.”
Instead, he and a roomful of journalists watched in horror as Dwyer put the barrel of the .357 magnum into his mouth and pulled the trigger, a public suicide that set off a firestorm of coverage and controversy.
The reporters who gathered in Dwyer’s office on Jan. 23, 1987, thought they were there simply to hear Dwyer announce his resignation from office. “My mission was to stay there until he said those words, then call in a new top for our story,” Marshall recalled.
As a row of video cameras whirred, Dwyer delivered a rambling polemic about the criminal justice system. He then handed out a final type-written page, which contained several grammatical errors and this chilling line:
“I am going to die in office in an effort to see if the shameful facts, spread out in all their shame, will not burn through our civic shamelessness and set fire to American pride.”
As reporters were just starting to skim the final statement, a frantic-looking Dwyer picked up a large manila envelope and pulled out a .357 Magnum revolver.
“I remember the gun, because it was huge,” said Eric Conrad, then a reporter for The Patriot-News and now the director of communications for the Maine Municipal Association in Augusta. “I had one of those moments where I was up in the air, looking down at myself, almost an out-of-body experience.”
Up until the gun appeared, recalled free-lance photographer Gary D. Miller, “It was just kind of a long-winded, sad event.”
Miller captured one of the signature photos of the event, with Dwyer holding the gun in his right hand while his left arm is extended toward the camera, as if warning off bystanders.
“I didn’t consider running at all, because I didn’t consider that it was real,” Miller said. “I was stunned, but I kept taking pictures. It happened very fast.”