PORTLAND, Maine — Portland police are seeking the public’s help in tracking down two black or Asian men witnesses reported seeing in the area of a triple shooting that left one man dead early Wednesday morning.
“They may be witnesses; they may be suspects,” Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said during a Wednesday news conference held at department headquarters. “We’re trying to get more information to lock that down.”
Matthew Blanchard, 24, was killed in the shooting.
Sauschuck had little additional information during a late afternoon update on the incident, in which Blanchard, John Howard, 20, Joshua Hersom, 24, and one other individual were attacked by gunfire around 1 a.m. near the intersection of India and Congress streets.
At 8 a.m. Wednesday, there were blood drops over several yards of the sidewalk leading up to Congress Street. Police were gathered outside a brick apartment building at 105/107 India St.
Blanchard, who was riding a bicycle at the time of the incident, was killed, Sauschuck confirmed. Hersom and Howard were taken to Maine Medical Center, underwent surgery and are expected to recover, he said. The fourth member of their party was not hit by gunfire and was not identified by police.
Sauschuck said witnesses told police that just before the gunshots, the victims were engaged in an altercation with the two men being sought for questioning.
Blanchard was facing felony charges for his role in a fatal June 22 car crash in which he allegedly was driving a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license. The car’s passenger, Casey Green, 22, died after the vehicle went off Route 100 in Falmouth and struck a tree.
Sauschuck told reporters Wednesday afternoon that investigators have no indication that the crash has any connection to the shooting. He also said police have no reason to believe gang activity or drugs have anything to do with the incident at this point in the investigation, although “we’re not ruling anything out.”
Blanchard was a student at Southern Maine Community College.
“Our thoughts and our hearts go out to Matthew Blanchard’s family, friends and classmates,” SMCC President Ronald Cantor said Wednesday afternoon in a statement issued to the Bangor Daily News. “Matthew had previously taken business courses at SMCC and was working toward an associate degree in heating, air conditioning and refrigeration. As our community mourns, we encourage students to talk with a college counselor or contact other community resources that provide grief counseling.”
A woman who said she heard the fatal shooting in Portland early Wednesday morning said the gunfire was followed by a “thick scream.”
Aubin Thomas, 25, who lives near the intersection of Smith and Congress streets, said she was trying to go to sleep when the shooting occurred around 1 a.m.
“I heard five bangs in quick succession and then a guttural scream and someone yell, ‘call 911,’” she told the BDN on Wednesday morning. “It was a thick scream. I think that’s why I remember it. It wasn’t happy or excited, it was thick.”
Thomas said she assumed the commotion was from a fireworks accident, as people have been blasting off the explosives frequently in recent weeks.
Ian Harriman, 31, who lives in the area, also told the BDN he initially believed the loud noises were fireworks.
“I woke up when I heard the shots, and I looked at the clock and it was around 1,” Harriman said. “I thought it was just fireworks, with the bars getting out.”
Thomas said the incident is a shock because her neighborhood is considered a safe one. She said she has been living there for more than a year and chose it over other areas of the city she viewed as more dangerous.
“When a car backfires or something, you think, ‘Oh, it could be a gunshot,’ but then I think, ‘But this is Portland,’” she said. “Every so often you’ll see news about a knife attack or a beating, but you never hear about shootings around here.”
Thomas said the notion that the shooter or shooters have not been caught “adds another level of creepiness to it.”
The chief said police are not yet releasing the type of gun used or where Blanchard was hit.
He said officers were on the scene “almost immediately” after the gunshots were reported so the perpetrators “would have had to duck into one of the nearby neighborhoods” in order to avoid being caught.
The shooting represents the first homicide of the year in Portland. The city had two last year and six the year before.
Sauschuck asked anyone with information about the case or who might have seen or heard anything in the area to call detectives at 874-8533. Anonymous tips can also be left at 874-8584, through a link on the department website www.portland-police.com, and by texting the keyword “GOTCHA” along with a message to 274637.
BDN photographer Troy Bennett and intern Noah Hurowitz contributed to this report.