She should have known better.
What was she thinking, going out dressed like that?
She was asking for trouble.
It was her own damn fault.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. But in the coming months, you may find yourself hearing these paper-thin arguments more and more often, in a brand-new context.
Already, I’ve seen similar comments begin to creep across my own social media pages. Typically veiled in a shroud of semi-politeness, here, in a nutshell, is what some believe: Karen Wrentzel is dead because she dressed inappropriately for a day in the woods during hunting season.
According to three sources familiar with the investigation, she was not wearing blaze orange clothing.
This morning, I hope you’ll join me in beginning to shout down those who’d have you engage in another form of blatant victim-blaming.
Repeat after me: It wasn’t Karen’s fault.
Karen Wrentzel, let’s not forget, was on her own land when a hunter shot her dead on Oct. 28. Robert R. Trundy of Hebron has been charged with manslaughter in the incident.
Repeat after me, again: Incident.
Not “accident.” Incident.
An accident, game wardens often preach, involves some random act that’s beyond anyone’s control. Pointing a rifle at something and pulling the trigger, then later learning that the thing you shot wasn’t a deer after all … it was actually another human being? What do you call that?
That’s not anyone’s intention. But it’s not an accident, either. It’s an incident. Tragic. Horrible. Preventable.
Just ask Debbie Morin the difference. Debbie is Karen Wrentzel’s mother. And over the past two weeks, she has learned the difference between the two words.
One word makes someone blameless. The other seeks answers.
“This is not an accidental shooting. He deliberately pulled the trigger. It’s not a hunting accident,” Morin said. “Like the wardens said, it’s an ‘incident.’ It is manslaughter. And it is a criminal felony. It’s not a hunting accident that a lot of people are calling it … it’s really not.”
A quick history lesson: Twenty-nine years ago, a young mother was shot and killed by a hunter in Hermon. Her name was Karen Wood. She, too, was on her own land.
She wasn’t wearing orange clothing, either. Instead, she had on a pair of white mittens, which investigators surmised may have been mistaken for the raised tail, or “flag” of a running deer.
After Wood’s death, many placed some of the blame on her. She should have known better. What was she thinking, going out dressed like that? She was asking for trouble.
The incident divided families, and pitted hunters against non-hunters. The fact that Wood and her husband had only recently moved to Maine was also pointed out, as some said the family simply didn’t know how we Mainers do things.
Who goes out in the woods without wearing orange?
The short answer, 29 years later: Plenty of people.
And it’s up to those of us who walk into those same woods carrying our hunting rifles to make sure that they all stay safe, no matter what they’re wearing.
Here’s hoping that this time around, we Mainers — especially hunting Mainers — look at things a lot differently.
On Wednesday, Trundy made his first court appearance, and was released on bail. After the proceedings, I had a brief chat with Jeremy Wrentzel, Karen Wrentzel’s brother.
He’s been hearing the rumblings already, it seemed. And he’s not going to let anyone blame his sister for her own death.
“Just because it’s fall and it’s hunting season, the woods do not belong to the hunters,” he said. “It’s not a person’s responsibility to wear orange or not go into the woods. It’s the hunter’s responsibility not to fire at something unless they know what they’re firing at. That’s really the biggest thing to me, is people are acting like she should have been wearing a lot more orange or she should have not been in the woods. Anybody can be in the woods. Especially on their own property. Hunters need to just know what they’re shooting at.”
As a hunter, and a Mainer, I stand with Jeremy on that sentiment. Proudly.
And I hope you do, too.