Wounded cadet calls shooting ‘freak accident’
VASSALBORO (BDN) -- Fragments of the bullet accidentally fired at Maine Criminal Justice Academy Cadet Matthew Morrison on Monday are still in his leg.
“It fractured my femur,” said Morrison, 33, of Mars Hill, who on Wednesday was still hospitalized at Maine Medical Center in Portland. “And it did a lot of nerve damage. It hit me above my knee cap, and there was no exit wound. I still have bullet fragments in my leg.”
Morrison, an Aroostook County Jail Corrections officer, was sitting in the back seat of a pickup truck parked at the police academy in Vassalboro when he was shot accidentally by a fellow cadet, Matthew Benger, 24, of Portland, who works for the Cumberland County Jail.
Academy director John Rogers said Wednesday, “It’s against academy rules to have guns on campus. Firearms training is not a part of the basic corrections training program.”
The truck that Morrison and Benger were in is owned by Cody Gillis, 25, of Brunswick, who also works for the Cumberland County Jail and was preparing to leave the parking lot when the gun went off.
“The gun had been stored in the console of Gillis’ truck, and Benger, who was a front-seat passenger, was handling the 9mm handgun at the time,” according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“It was a freak accident,” Morrison said. “If it hit any closer to either side of my leg it would have killed me. I could have bled out.”
The two Cumberland County corrections officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations into the shooting. Attempts to reach Benger for comment have been unsuccessful.
Morrison said that after being shot, “I got out of the truck, and my leg was done. I laid down on the ground, and Benger applied pressure to my leg, while Cody called 911. He [Gillis] was also trying to comfort me, holding my hand, helping me breath, keeping me focused.
“There was a time that I thought I was going to pass out,” Morrison said “They had to put a tourniquet on me. That hurt. It was really bad.”
Morrison was taken by ambulance to MaineGeneral in Augusta and was given a transfusion before being flown by LifeFlight helicopter to Maine Medical Center in Portland.
“I don’t remember the ride. I was pretty much unconscious,” Morrison said.
He had surgery on his femur Tuesday afternoon. His wife, Brittany, as well as his mother, siblings and co-workers have travelled been down from The County to visit, and employees of Cumberland County have also visited to offer support.
Maine State Police are investigating the shooting as is the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office. All three cadets are part of a class of 29 enrolled in a five-week basic corrections training program at the academy. The course is in its fourth week. All three were staying on campus.
Benger and Gillis were hired by the Cumberland County Jail in April, and Morrison was hired by the Aroostook County Jail last November, academy director Rogers said.
Only law enforcement officers are trained in the use of firearms at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, and only police officers are allowed to bring guns on academy grounds, the director said.
Rogers said both Benger and Gillis could face disciplinary action—Gillis for bringing the firearm onto the campus and Benger for handling it.
Morrison said he harbors no bad feelings toward Benger.
“It hurt like hell, but this isn’t going to stop me from pursuing my dreams,” Morrison said of his desire to serve his community as a corrections officer or county deputy. “This is just an obstacle.”
Even so, time will tell whether Morrison will recover enough to return to work.
“I’m scared about what my future has in hold for me,” the cadet said. “Am I looking at permanent damage? It’s too early to tell. I have to work hard to get it corrected and work through the pain of getting better.
“You can knock us down, but good luck trying to keep us down,” Morrison said.
BDN reporter Anthony Brino contributed to this story.