Maine Authorities Searching for Suspect Who Killed Sheriff's Deputy
NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine (AP) — A Maine man killed a sheriff's deputy, stole his cruiser and robbed a convenience store early Wednesday, triggering an intensive manhunt in a rural town in central Maine.
Aircraft and armored vehicles were seen around Norridgewock and schools were locked down as officers from federal, state and local law enforcement officials search for a 29-year-old man who remained on the loose after abandoning the stolen cruiser, state police told reporters Wednesday.
Somerset County Cpl. Sheriff Eugene Cole was killed at about 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock about 60 miles west of Bangor, state police said. His cruiser was driven to a Cumberland Farms store, which was robbed.
Aircraft and armored vehicles were seen around Norridgewock, and schools were locked down as federal, state and local law enforcement officials searched for 29-year-old John Williams, of Madison, Maine, who remained on the loose after abandoning the stolen cruiser, state police said.
"Many times we're able to say that there is not an ongoing threat, but that's not the case today," said State Police Lt. Col. John Cote. "There certainly is an ongoing public threat. He's considered armed and dangerous."
Several Somerset County officers arrived on scene within 10 minutes after the robbery, and the cruiser was found abandoned shortly after 5 a.m. in another part of the town. It wasn't known if the man was driving another vehicle.
Police said Williams is 5-foot-6, 120 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair in a ponytail.
PRESS RELEASE NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine - This morning, April 25, 2018, between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. Cpl. Eugene Cole was shot and killed in the town of Norridgewock. What we know right now is that the suspect involved in the shooting stole Cpl. Cole’s fully marked cruiser, drove to the Cumberland Farms in Norridgewock and committed a theft. The suspect then fled Cumberland Farms driving Cpl. Cole’s fully marked cruiser. Shortly after 5 a.m., the cruiser was located abandoned off of the Martin Stream Road in Norridgewock. We believe the suspect then fled the vehicle and is presently at large. The suspect should be considered armed and dangerous. The individual of interest is John Williams, 29, last known address of Madison. He is described as 5’6” 120 lbs, brown hair, with sides that are shaved, with a ponytail on top and blue eyes. Presently, a manhunt is underway. We have issued a nationwide alert. At this time, there is no vehicle associated with Williams. This manhunt is being coordinated with the Maine State Police, Maine Warden Service, Forestry, other County and Local Agencies, and the FBI. We presently have air support in our search for Williams. This is all I have for now, this is an active and fluid investigation.
A post shared by Maine State Police (@mainestatepolice) on
Residents of the town of about 3,500 people were urged to be vigilant. There are heavy woods in the area.
Law enforcement officials said he had arrest records in Maine, Tennessee and Massachusetts. In Tennessee, he faced drug and drug-related charges dating as far back as 2008 and was revived from an overdose at least once, according to the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.
Last month, Williams was arrested in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and charged with improper storage and carrying a firearm without a license. He was found with a 9mm handgun and a 16-round magazine after he told the police that he dozed off and drove into a ditch.
An officer wrote in the report that Williams appeared tired and impaired, but denied having consumed any alcohol or illegal drugs.
Williams posted bail on March 31 and was due to return to court on Wednesday for a probable cause hearing.
That image contrasts with Williams' days at Skowhegan High School, where a yearbook showed he once served as a class officer. "When in school he was a nice, funny and an all-around good guy," said classmate Casey Sprout-Costa.
Another classmate, Alex Stetkis, said Williams was a popular honor student who was class president in his junior year. But things went downhill when he started picking fights with other classmates and getting into drugs.
"Most could not believe it," Stetkis said of the news that Williams was suspected in the killing.
"He was always kind and could have gone anywhere in life if he hadn't gotten into drugs," he said.
Williams' Facebook page features photos of him smiling at a graduation ceremony as well as other photos of him hiking, hanging out with friends and dressed in a suit at a wedding party. His last post in 2017 noted how he was starting a new job in nearby Anson, Maine.
Residents in Norridgewock, a town of about 3,500, were stunned Wednesday as state police and federal agents investigated a blue-grey home believed to be where Williams lived with his girlfriend. Overhead, a helicopter buzzed low over trees.
"We're a little on edge. It's unnerving knowing there's a guy running around out there," said Tasha Raymond, who was home with her two children.
Gov. Paul LePage expressed his "deepest condolences" to Cole's family in a tweet. "If you live in Somerset County and the surrounding area, please cooperate with law enforcement and stay safe," the Republican governor said.
LePage also directed all U.S and state flags to be flown at half-staff for at least three days.
Cole has a son who also is a Somerset County deputy. Sheriff Dale Lancaster called Cole, a 13-year veteran of the department, an "outstanding employee, one of the finest deputies."
A relative described Cole as a lover of music who was well-known throughout the community for his generous and peaceful ways.
"He was one of the most caring and considerate people that I had the pleasure to know," said Madison resident Scott Bishop, whose mother had been married to Cole's brother.
Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Kathy McCormack and Michael Casey in Concord, New Hampshire; and Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to fix the name of a town. It is Haverhill, not Haverill.