Agents trained to mitigate the danger of methamphetamine labs and render them safe, as well as collect samples for evidence, work at a suspected meth lab in Gorham on Sunday. Courtesy of Maine Department of Public Safety

A church in downtown Gorham was evacuated Sunday because a man was manufacturing and selling methamphetamine next to the building, police say.

The First Parish Congregational Church at 1 Church St. was evacuated around noon due to the risk of a fire and explosion from the mobile, one-pot meth lab, Commander Scott Pelletier of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said in a telephone interview Monday.

The church is on a hill overlooking downtown Gorham and is across the street from the University of Southern Maine campus.

“I think the (Sunday) service was over, but there were a number of people still inside the church and in the basement area,” Pelletier said.

The Gorham police department went to the church around noon after a neighbor told police that a person appeared to be conducting drug deals, the MDEA said. The suspect is accused of producing meth in an area next to the church that was partially hidden from view by bushes, Pelletier said.

Gorham police officers found the suspect, 37-year-old Matthew Cole of Gorham, outside the church. He had several backpacks, bags and other items in his possession. Officers recognized the scene as a “one pot methamphetamine laboratory,” which was in the active stages of the process of producing meth, next to an exterior wall of the church.


Cole was charged with the unlawful operation of a meth laboratory and violating conditions of release. It was the second time in six months that he has been charged with operating a meth lab. He was arrested and charged with unlawful operation of a meth lab and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person in May 2023. Cole was subsequently released on bail for drug, theft and firearm charges.

Gorham police and members of the Gorham Fire Department secured the scene until members of the MDEA’s Clandestine Laboratory Enforcement Team could arrive.

The team is comprised of agents from across Maine specially trained to mitigate the dangers of meth labs and render them safe. Agents must wear fire retardant suits and air purifying respirators to avoid toxic gases produced from the chemical process used to make meth.

Members of the team collected evidence next to the church that included lithium, Coleman fuels and other items used in the manufacturing process. The toxic byproducts of the meth lab were turned over the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for destruction.

“Due to the extreme chance of explosion and or fire, the area was evacuated for safety, to include the occupied church. Cole was subsequently arrested for possessing approximately 27 grams of methamphetamine,” the MDEA said in its statement.

One pot meth labs, also known as shake and bake labs, appear to be on the decline in Maine, according to statistics provided by the MDEA.

The MDEA said that law enforcement responses to the mobile labs has declined from 52 in 2018; 35 in 2019; 8 in 2020; 2 in 2021; and zero in 2022. There have been four responses to reports of meth labs in 2023. The MDEA attributes the decline to the increasing availability of crystal meth from the southwest border.

Crystal meth, which is illegal, is a colorless, odorless from of methamphetamine – a powerful and addictive synthetic stimulant. It can resemble small fragments of glass or shiny blue-white rocks of various sizes, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Abuse of the drug can lead to serious psychological or physical dependence.

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