This 2007 photo shows Somerset County Cpl. Sheriff Eugene Cole , who was killed early Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Norridgewock, Maine. A search is underway for a suspect who stole the deputy's cruiser and robbed a convenience store afterward. Credit: Jeff Pouland | AP

Somerset County Sheriff’s Cpl. Eugene Cole was remembered by friends and colleagues as a generous, affable man who was skilled at negotiating in tense situations.

“For a guy that would go into a hostile situation and be as small a man as he was, he could talk down the giant that was standing there,” said Troy Bowden, fire chief for the town of Canaan, who knew Cole, 61, for more than 20 years. “He could disarm the whole situation if he had that chance to talk, to get the conversation going.”

“Anytime he could defuse a situation without having to use excessive force, that’s the way he would do things,” he said.

Cole, who lived in Norridgewock and worked for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office for 13 years, was shot and killed early Wednesday morning by 29-year-old John D. Williams, of Madison, police said. The killing spurred a nationwide manhunt. Williams had still not been found by Wednesday evening.

[Timeline: What we know about the shooting death of Cpl. Eugene Cole and the manhunt for John D. Williams]

Those who knew Cole were reeling from the loss in the hours following his death.

“I just couldn’t believe that it actually happened. His [face] has been right in my mind all morning, no matter what I’ve been doing,” Bowden said. “He was down to earth, just a decent human. He was that kind man who would talk to anybody, just a nice gentleman.”

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said Cole was an “outstanding deputy who has served with great distinction.”

Norridgewock resident Roger Reynolds, a handyman, said he had a lot of respect for Cole, and knew him through his own run-ins with the law. But he only had praise for him

“As an officer, he was well-mannered and treated us with respect,” Reynolds said.

Cole would stop by the Canaan fire station frequently, sometimes a few times a week, depending on his shifts, said Bowden, who has been with the department since 1999 and became chief six years ago. Bowden made sure Cole had a key to the station during night shifts, so he could come in to use the bathroom or make a pot of coffee.

Cole was a skilled guitarist who used to play in a band called Borderline Express, said Scott Bishop, who was at one point related to Cole by marriage.

Condolences for Cole poured in from around the country.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage expressed his condolences to Cole’s family in a series of tweets Wednesday, and directed that all U.S. and state flags be flown at half-staff for at least three days to honor the fallen deputy.

“He served his community with honor, and his sacrifice will not be forgotten,” LePage said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Independent Sen. Angus King, also expressed sadness over Cole’s death. Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin said he was “horrified” to learn of Cole’s murder.

Police departments across the country joined in remembering Cole.

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Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.