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'I don't want to be a pawn': Fiancé of Raleigh mass shooting victim feels city-sponsored event was too politically charged

Posted October 25, 2022 3:48 p.m. EDT
Updated October 25, 2022 4:40 p.m. EDT

— The fiancé of one of Raleigh’s mass shooting victims told WRAL News that he feels used after participation in Sunday’s city-sponsored Raleigh Healing Together event.

Rob Steele, who was set to marry Mary Marshall this upcoming Saturday, said he feels lied to and that the event carried too much of a political tone, in his opinion. He said he’s apprehensive to engage in future events.

“I am not naïve,” Steele said. “I knew there would be some political conversation, but the event was supposed to be about the victims, about healing.

“It wasn’t supposed to be majority gun control and gun violence.”

On Sunday, state leaders, local leaders and hundreds of community members gathered in front of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium to honor the five people who lost their lives and two people injured in the Oct. 13 mass shooting in the Hedingham neighborhood.

Steele spoke on Sunday, but he and Marshall’s family left the event feeling like there was too much focus on the political and too little focus on the victims and who they were.

Steele praised the speech given by Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin.

“I thought her speech was good, to be honest, and appropriate for the event,” he said.

However, Steele feels Gov. Roy Cooper was focused more on stricter gun laws.

“We should be shocked into action,” Cooper said at Sunday’s event. “We need wisdom to find solutions.”

On Tuesday, Cooper’s Deputy Communications Director Mary Scott Winstead provided WRAL News with a statement.

“It is important for communities to be able to grieve together and the perspectives of the friends and families of those lost should be heard and respected,” Winstead wrote. “The governor addressed Sunday's vigil to share his prayers for the victims and their families and his commitment to mental health support and preventing the continued scourge of gun violence.”

Baldwin also provided WRAL News a statement on Tuesday in reaction to Steele’s claims.

“Raleigh Healing had one purpose — to bring our community together to honor the victims, support their families and begin the healing process,” Baldwin said. “I am sorry that Rob feels the event was political.

“That was not the intention. We were honored to have him there to talk about Mary Marshall and what she meant to him. That was the intention of the day and the intention of the groups who organized the event.”

Baldwin is running for reelection against Daquanta Copeland and Terrance Randolph Ruth. North Carolina’s early-voting period runs through 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5. Election day is set for Nov. 8.

“I asked the mayor, point blank, ‘Is this a political stunt because you are up for reelection?’” Steele said. “She said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

Steele said he was disappointed by comments made by Gerald Givens, president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP.

“You can join the Raleigh-Apex NAACP,” Givens said on Sunday. “If just 100 of you join our branch today, we will become the largest in the state.”

When he heard that, Steele said, “I got sick to my stomach. I felt like I had been used.”

Steele said when Givens started talking, he left the event. Also, Steele said he did not want to be on camera advocating for gun control.

On Tuesday, Givens provided WRAL News with a statement.

“We hoped to use the vigil to talk about the healing process,” Givens wrote. “While there may have been many conversations about how to prevent gun violence, our hope was to reflect on and seek out how we as a community can begin the process of finding ways to heal together.”

Steele said he never saw the news release for the event, and questioned Baldwin’s motive.

“Either the mayor did not know what the people she partnered with were planning or she misled me,” Steele said. “If she knew she lied to me, if she didn’t know, then why?

“You are the mayor of the city hosting this event. Your city’s name is on this event.”

Steele said his late fiancé was not a gun control advocate.

“I don’t want to be a pawn,” Steele said. “I don’t want Mary’s memory to be a pawn.”

While Steele said Marshall would not want an assault weapon ban, she would want mental health reform.

Steele insisted he wanted to remember Marshall and the four other victims: Officer Gabriel Torres, James Thompson, Nicole Connors and Susan Karnatz.

“I don’t want them to be forgotten,” Steele said.

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