SABATTUS, Maine — As her husband shared stories of their son Billy’s gentle nature, Laura Brackett looked away, her gaze turning to the window or the television in their living room playing a muted episode of “Judge Judy.”
Pictures of her son filled the wall behind her.
One of Billy on his wedding day just over three years ago. Another of his daughter, Sandra, dressed in a Santa hat.
He was so thrilled to become a father.
“He was tickled to death,” said Laura Brackett, breaking her quiet to recall that her son stayed by his wife Kristina’s side throughout her delivery in February 2021. “He cut the cord and everything.”
Billy Brackett was playing cornhole with friends at Schemengees Bar & Grille in Lewiston on Oct. 25 when Robert R. Card II entered and started shooting. Brackett, 48, of Brunswick, was one of 18 Card killed that night.
“This kind of stuff is not supposed to happen in Lewiston, Maine, or in the state of Maine, period,” said William Brackett, Billy’s father. “We don’t bother our neighbors, we don’t get people mad at us, and then something like this comes along. It’s mind-blowing.”
In the week since their son died, and the couple had been mostly reluctant to talk publicly about the tragedy that took his life. They just went through the motions over the week, managing to make arrangements for a funeral scheduled for Saturday. Even amid their grief, though, when they shared stories about Brackett, the memories brought a smile, and even an occasional laugh.
Gentle Giant, Brackett’s friends called him, and it was apt. He stood 6 feet 2 inches and weighed about 245 pounds, his father said. Brackett referred to himself as “The Silent Giant” on his Facebook profile.
“It’s not that he couldn’t hurt you,” said his father, “but he wouldn’t.”
His son was generous and had an affinity for children, even coaching children’s basketball in the local rec league.
“I always knew he’d be a good father,” William Brackett said. “He loved little kids.”
Billy Brackett’s own early childhood in Ohio brought a shock and challenges for his parents. By 18 months, he wasn’t speaking like others his age and doctors diagnosed him as deaf. His parents didn’t fully believe it. They remembered Billy standing on the couch in their home staring at the nearby Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, watching, and somehow always knowing a plane was nearing the landing strip. The boy wasn’t responding to sound, doctors explained, he felt the plane’s vibrations.
William Brackett struggled to accept the diagnosis until the day he dropped a heavy dictionary behind his young son. Laura Brackett jumped so high she nearly hit the ceiling. Their son didn’t even flinch.
The family moved to Maine, William Brackett’s home state, when Billy was about 7, and since his parents never completely got the hang of sign language Billy became an expert lip reader. His parents mostly understood his speech and if they couldn’t, they said, he wrote down what he wanted to say. Going to Maine’s Governor Baxter School for the Deaf for elementary school, though, was a watershed experience for the boy. Surrounded by other children who communicated with sign language, he blossomed, and eventually even wanted to go to school on the weekends.
“He seemed to be more himself,” his father recalled. “He was a little happier than he was at public school.”
Brackett remained close friends with others in the deaf community, including Joshua Seal, Bryan MacFarlane, Stephen Vozzella, all also killed in the shooting.
In high school, Brackett also found success as an athlete. He was passionate about basketball, and recorded more than 1,000 points during his time playing for Baxter, his father said. He loved baseball, and since Baxter didn’t have a team Brackett took the initiative to make an arrangement with Falmouth High School to play there. His senior year, Brackett hit .404, according to a 1994 article in the Lewiston Sun-Journal, and led the team in RBIs, earning him a roster spot at the All-Star game in Bangor.
Brackett had extraordinary eyesight, and his skill as a darts player later in life brought him to tournaments throughout New England, where he competed against world champions.
He also loved working with his hands. Most recently he worked for FedEx, but Brackett spent years with a factory that made boots for L.L. Bean and another that manufactured medical equipment. His father recalled he became an expert in the equipment used for production at both. Brackett recently helped build a garage and second-story studio space at his in-laws’ home, where he and his family also lived.
Brackett met Kristina, who is also deaf, at a club for the deaf community, and while his parents liked her immediately, they were surprised when their middle-aged son announced in 2019 he was getting married.
“I said, fine, I’ve been waiting 45 years for this,” William Brackett laughed.
“He loved her just like he loved his daughter,” Laura Brackett added.
Now, the family is reeling from Brackett’s sudden death. The grief will become more manageable in time, his father hoped, but, “It’s still going to get harder yet before it turns around.”
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