Police continued a massive manhunt Wednesday night for the man they believe shot and killed Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole on Route 2 in Norridgewock earlier in the day, the first time a Maine police officer has been killed in a shooting in nearly 30 years.
Cole, 62, was a 13-year veteran of the department, Sheriff Dale Lancaster said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Norridgewock.
Police identified the suspect as John Williams, 29, of Madison, and consider him to be “armed and extremely dangerous.” Williams was described as being 5 feet, 6 inches tall, weighing about 120 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. Police said anyone who sees Williams should call 911 immediately.
The Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit is investigating Cole’s slaying, said Lt. John Cote, second in command at the Maine State Police.
“We’ve issued a nationwide bulletin now for Mr. Williams, seeking contact with him for information,” he said. “Many times we say there is not an ongoing threat, but that is not the case today. This certainly is an ongoing public threat. He does continue to pose a risk. It really is all hands on deck right now – a very concentrated effort, because we believe right now he remains fairly local.”
Our deepest condolences go out to the family of fallen Deputy Sheriff Corporal Eugene Cole. If you live in Somerset Police armed with long rifles searched the area of Martin Stream Road, which connects Norridgewock and Fairfield. Armed police from multiple jurisdictions deployed in an all-out manhunt Wednesday afternoon, and a large police presence also engulfed the area around Williams’ last known address in Madison as officers searched the neighborhood.
The heavy police presence left many people sheltering in place and locking their doors.
A neighbor in that area, Rick Bishop, said his nephew has a friend who is a Williams family member. That family member reportedly was texted by Williams, who claimed to have a high-powered rifle and said he would not go to prison and would not be taken alive, Bishop said, adding that his family relayed that information to police immediately.
“This still remains a very active investigation,” Lancaster said at a 5 p.m. news conference in Norridgewock. “I do want to assure the community that we will have a large police presence in the region throughout the night. The community needs to be aware of their surroundings until Williams is apprehended. Do not hesitate to call 911 to report anything suspicious. We will be working tirelessly until Williams can be safely apprehended.”
Williams was arrested in Massachusetts last month on firearms charges and was scheduled to appear Wednesday in a Massachusetts courtroom for a probable cause hearing, the Essex District Attorney’s Office said.
Authorities said Cole was shot between 1 and 2 a.m. and his body was found at 7:15 a.m. Wednesday at 16 Mercer St., which is also Route 2, in Norridgewock. It was unclear Wednesday under what circumstances Cole and Williams might have encountered each other, and authorities declined to provide details, citing the ongoing investigation.
Lancaster said that Williams stole Cole’s fully marked cruiser, then drove to the Cumberland Farms store, where he reportedly committed a theft. He then fled in Cole’s cruiser.
The cruiser was found abandoned shortly after 5 a.m. off Martin Stream Road in Norridgewock, police said.
“We believe the suspect then fled the vehicle on foot and is presently at large,” Maine State Police said in a news release Wednesday morning.
Cole’s son David also is employed as a deputy by the sheriff’s office.
Around 11:15 a.m., Cole’s body was taken out in a Maine State Police evidence response truck with a state police cruiser ahead of it, lights flashing, en route to the Office of Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta. A shoulder-to-shoulder line of police officers stood at attention near the scene, some saluting as Cole’s body was delivered to the waiting state police vehicle.
As the procession left, there was a flurry of police sirens echoing across the downtown. Officers stood at attention and saluted as the body was delivered to the medical examiner’s office in Augusta.
“He was an outstanding employee,” Lancaster said. “He was one of the finest deputies.”
Later in the day, a police procession escorted Cole’s body back to Skowhegan from Augusta.
“We have lost an outstanding deputy today, who served with great distinction for the last 13 years,” Lancaster said.
Cole is the first officer killed in a shooting since Giles Landry was shot in 1989 in Leeds, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said. However, McCausland said several officers have been killed in the line of duty in the years in between, including, most recently, when Fryeburg police officer Nathan Desjardins died last summer from injuries he sustained while trying to save a boater’s life on the Saco River.
Lancaster said a nationwide alert had been issued for Williams and that police did not know of any vehicle Williams might be using after abandoning the police cruiser.
Multiple area schools went into lockout or lockdown as a precaution Wednesday, including those in Madison. Law enforcement officers were joined by FBI agents in looking for the suspect across central Maine, as police armed with rifles stopped vehicles to search them, canvassed neighborhoods and scoured woods along local roads. A helicopter and a drone also were seen aiding in
Williams has a scant criminal history in Maine, where records indicate he was born in Texas.
According to the State Bureau of Information, the agency that maintains criminal records in Maine, Williams was charged with class C felony burglary when he was a juvenile. He was found responsible for the offense Feb. 13, 2006. Williams served 17 days in an unspecified correctional facility, was placed on probation for a year and was ordered to pay $500 in restitution. The date of the offense and his age at the time was not provided. Although most juvenile criminal records are confidential, state law mandates that Class C felonies, punishable in the adult system by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, remain public.
His only other offense is a misdemeanor theft he committed in June 2007 in Fairfield. He pleaded guilty a month later, served two days in jail and was ordered to pay $200 in restitution.
Massachusetts state troopers found Williams and a female companion from Mercer in the breakdown lane of Interstate 495 in Haverhill, Massachusetts, shortly before 4 a.m. on March 22. When police stopped, Williams and the woman were acting frantically, a police report said. Their car had run off the road, and there was significant damage to the right rear wheel, the trooper reported. As troopers talked with Williams, they conducted a search and found several small plastic bags with a white and tan powder residue in his pockets.
Williams told troopers he fell asleep at the wheel.
Police searched the car and found more bags with powder residue, including in the possession of his passenger. In the trunk they found a loaded 9 mm Smith and Wesson magazine loaded with 10 rounds. Nearby was a black pouch containing a black-and-silver 9 mm handgun that had the slide portion of the weapon separated from the frame, along with more ammunition.
Although Williams told troopers he was permitted to carry the gun legally in Maine, troopers charged him with improper storage of a firearm, carrying a firearm without a license, unattended ammunition, possession of a large capacity firearm (9 mm Smith & Wesson with a 16-round magazine), marked lanes violation and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
The passenger also was written a summons for possession of half a Percocet tablet.
According to the Essex District Attorney’s office, Williams was arraigned later that day, and a Massachusetts judge imposed $7,500 bail. Five days later during a bail review hearing, bail was reduced to $5,000. Williams posted that bail on March 31.
Joseph Raymond, 33, lives in the house in Norridgewock that was listed as Williams’ address when he was a teenager during the times he was arrested in 2006 and 2007. Raymond said that when he and his wife bought the home in 2008, the seller was a woman also named Williams who had a son about high school graduation age.
“We met (her) once at the signing, but we didn’t meet her son. But I remember her saying her son was about 18 or 19 at the time, and he had a history of breaking into her bedroom,” Raymond said.
“When we moved in, there was broken wood around the door frame where he probably tried to bust in.”
Staff Writers Amy Calder, Rachel Ohm and Emily Higginbotham contributed to this report.
County and the surrounding area, please cooperate with law enforcement and stay safe.
— Paul R. LePage (@Governor_LePage) April 25, 2018
I am deeply saddened to learn Cpl. Eugene Cole was killed in the line of duty in Norridgewock this morning. Cpl. Cole served the citizens of Somerset County for 13 years with honor & distinction, & Maine will be eternally grateful for his brave actions to protect his community.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) April 25, 2018
I’m heartbroken by the loss of Corporal Eugene Cole, a 13 year veteran of the Somerset County Sherriff’s Office. Praying for his family and friends, and the many law enforcement officials working to capture his killer.
— Senator Angus King (@SenAngusKing) April 25, 2018
I am absolutely horrified and heartbroken by the reports this morning of the killing of one of our brave law enforcement officers, Deputy Sheriff Corporal Eugene Cole, in Norridgewock, who was responding to an incident and preforming his duty.
— Rep. Bruce Poliquin (@RepPoliquin) April 25, 2018