Man accidentally shot during documentary filming

Published 8:14 pm Monday, September 29, 2008

Details are emerging over the Saturday shooting of a 73-year-old man who was participating in a Civil War re-enactment that was being filmed for a documentary at Heritage Park in Isle of Wight County.

Authorities say Thomas R. Lord Sr., of Suffolk, was shot in the shoulder from behind shortly after noon. He was transported by helicopter to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital on Saturday afternoon and was released on Monday.

An investigator visited Lord at his home Monday and interviewed him about the incident, according to Isle of Wight Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps. “He was in fairly good condition,” he said.

Investigators are still trying to determine who fired the shot that wounded Lord.

“Our theory right now is that it came from one of the other re-enactors,” said Phelps. “There was a lot of activity going on at the time (Lord) was shot. Another group of re-enactors was firing their weapons at the time.”

Don Robertson, a spokesman for Isle of Wight County, said that there could have been as many as 100 people at the re-enactment in Heritage Park at the time of the shooting, but it wasn’t clear how many people were participants, film crew or bystanders.

“We’re not aware of it being a public event,” Robertson said.

A woman who answered the phone at Lord’s residence Tuesday morning said that he declined to comment, citing the ongoing police investigation. However, Daniel Lord, the victim’s son, called The Tidewater News in the afternoon and said that his father “was very tired. He’s recuperating.”

Daniel Lord said that he thought that 25 Union and 25 Confederate re-enactors participated in Saturday’s event. His father was in a Union uniform.

Phelps said Lord was hit by a .45-caliber lead ball. Investigators believe the weapon that fired the shot was a pistol. Rifles were also being used at the re-enactment, but they use .50-caliber bullets, Phelps said.

Doctors at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital recovered the lead ball and gave it Lord before he was discharged. Lord gave the lead ball to investigators on Monday, Phelps said.

“(The re-enactors) are not supposed to be using live ammunition,” Phelps said. “Usually they use black powder and cream of wheat to get the white smoke.”

Phelps said investigators were in contact with the production company that was making the documentary.

Andy Edmunds, the location manager with the Virginia Film Office in Richmond, said Monday that his office was “not aware of a film being produced at this site that was using a significant amount of film production infrastructure. It could have been an independent media-sized crew.”

Volpe Boykin, a 51-year-old Civil War re-enactor from Walters with the 59th Virginia Infantry, Longstreet’s Corps, wasn’t impressed with the production company’s safety precautions.

“Whomever was in charge of whatever they were doing, they really screwed up by not having an officer check everybody’s weapon,” Boykin said.

According to Boykin, Civil War re-enactors usually have all of their weapons checked by an officer in their group, or company. If a second company is involved with a re-enactment, an officer from the second company inspects all of the weapons a second time. Boykin said that weapons being used at large re-enactments could be inspected several times. Weapons that are not inspected, as a rule, are not brought onto the field.

“At the bigger re-enactments, you would think that there would be more accidents,” Boykin said. “Less experienced people go to those. But you don’t have accidents there,” because of the multiple weapon checks.

“The quickest way to get bounced from a re-enactment is to do something stupid safety-wise,” Boykin said, adding that if the weapon used in the shooting of Lord was a pistol, it would have been difficult to not be aware that it was loaded with a lead ball. “Whomever had a pistol couldn’t have not known it,” he said.

The pistol would have also had a stronger recoil, compared to firing just black powder.

“Whomever shot that gun knew there was a bullet (fired),” Boykin said. “They may never admit it, but they knew.”

Daniel Lord said that because of the incident, there would be a complete revision of weapon-checking rules with his father’s company, the 18th Corps of Re-enactors, 7th New York Volunteer Cavalry.

But despite the accident, Daniel Lord said his father will continue with re-enactments. “My dad is very much into this,” he said, adding that the person responsible for firing the shot that wounded his father “had to be a walk-on.”

“He’s lucky in any case,” said Boykin, a retired Norfolk police officer. Some weapons from the Civil War period “aren’t any less powerful than modern weapons. They just take longer to reload.”

Phelps asked that anyone with information on the shooting call the Isle of Wight Crime Line at (757) 357-5555.