A man scheduled to appear in court to face gun charges Wednesday killed a sheriff’s deputy in Maine, stole his cruiser and robbed a convenience store, officials said.
The fatal shooting of Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole around 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock triggered an intensive manhunt for the shooter in and around the heavily wooded rural town about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Bangor.
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 police said abandoned the cruiser after robbing the store.
“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.”
Cole’s death is believed to be the first killing of a law enforcement officer in Maine in nearly 30 years. The last time an officer was killed in the line of duty was in 1989, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety.
On Wednesday afternoon, police escorted Cole’s body to the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta. Police at intersections along the way paid tribute as the vehicle carrying Cole’s body passed by.
Police said Williams is 5-foot-6, 120 pounds with blue eyes and brown hair in a ponytail. Maine records didn’t indicate a lengthy criminal record, but Williams was arrested last month 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 while driving on Route 495 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.
Police also found containers with a powder residue, a pocket knife, razor blade and short drinking straw. The report noted that razor blades and straws are commonly used when snorting lines of narcotics. Williams was not charged with any drug offenses.
A judge gave Williams $7,500 bail, which was lowered by a Superior Court judge to $5,000. He posted bail on March 31 and was due to return to court Wednesday for a probable cause hearing.
Residents in Norridgewock, a town of about 3,500 huddled in the rain, as state police cruisers and federal agents investigated a blue-grey home believed to where Williams lived with his girlfriend.
“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.
[Feature Photo: John Williams/ Maine State Police via AP]