NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine — 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.
Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole was killed around 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Route 2 in Norridgewock, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) 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.”
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.
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.
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 of the town of about 3,500 people were urged to be vigilant. There are heavy woods in the area.
“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.
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.”