By Dave Gram
BURLINGTON, Vt. — A 35-year-old military veteran apparently shot himself Thursday at an Occupy Wall Street encampment in Vermont's largest city, fellow protesters said. Police said he was gravely wounded but would not say whether it was a suicide attempt.
Deputy Chief Andi Higbee said the public was not believed to be at risk after the 2 p.m. shooting at City Hall Park in Burlington.
People who knew the victim in the encampment said they were sure the man, who said he was a veteran, had shot himself.
"This person has clearly needed more help than we were capable of giving him here at this park," said Emily Reynolds, a University of Vermont student and a leader in the local Occupy movement.
If government provided better mental health services, she said, "this probably wouldn't have happened."
The shooting took place in or near a tent at the encampment. Higbee said police were trying to notify the man's family. He is believed to be from the Burlington area.
Higbee told reporters in the park it could be several hours before the protesters were allowed to return to their tent and that the shooting made him question whether the protest would be allowed to continue.
"Our responsibility is to keep the public safe. When there is a discharge of a firearm in a public place like this it's good cause to be concerned, greatly concerned," Higbee said.
The encampment has been in the park since Oct. 28. The city had threatened to evict the protesters because the park is closed from midnight until 6 a.m., but city officials made special accommodation for the protesters.
Almost two dozen tents have remained in the park, and the number of protesters has varied.
The first Occupy encampment sprang up in New York in September, and the movement has since spread to cities around the country and world. Protesters object to corporate influence on politics and what they call an unequal distribution of wealth.
Burlington is a community of just under 40,000 people on the shores of Lake Champlain known for its left-leaning politics.
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