Somerset County Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole (left) was killed in the line of duty during the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 25, 2018, in Norridgewock. John D. Williams (right), 29, of Madison, is the suspect in the fatal shooting. Credit: AP

Dozens of law enforcement agencies scoured Norridgewock and the surrounding area Wednesday, in search of the 29-year-old man they believe shot and killed a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy during the early morning hours.

State and federal agencies embarked on a nationwide manhunt for John D. Williams of Madison, who is believed to have shot Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole, 61, in Norridgewock sometime before 2 a.m.

Cole is the first Maine officer in nearly 30 years to be killed by gunfire while on duty.

Williams is described as 5 feet 6 inches tall, 120 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. He is considered “armed and dangerous,” Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said.

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

With Williams still at large, the presence of so many officers from local state and federal law enforcement agencies has turned an otherwise quiet part of the state into a frenzy of activity and concern.

A command post was set up at the Norridgewock Fire Department station on Upper Main Street — what an officer with the U.S. Marshal’s office in Portland called “the nucleus of the cell” for manhunt operations.

Despite the heavy police presence, Cassie Allen, who awoke to the sound of sirens racing past her Waterville Road home at 3:30 a.m., said the idea of an armed killer on the loose left her unsettled.

“Today has been chaotic. The town and community are in a state of shock,” she said. “Usually in this town, a lot doesn’t happen here.”

The 34-year-old — who said that Cole was her neighbor two doors down on Waterville Road in Norridgewock — said she dreaded going home because she’s afraid to be alone with just her mother.

Allen said she’s also concerned for her family in Madison, where law enforcement officers have been posted outside Williams’ last known residence on Jones Street since Wednesday morning, where they remained through the afternoon, though they would not confirm whether Williams was inside.

Police were releasing few details about the shooting Wednesday, but Lancaster confirmed that Cole was allegedly shot by Williams before 2 a.m. Williams then stole Cole’s marked police cruiser, drove to the Cumberland Farms convenience store at the intersection of U.S. Route 2 and Mechanic Street in Norridgewock and robbed the store, before again fleeing in the cruiser, said Lancaster.

Credit: Gabor Degre

Cole’s abandoned cruiser was found just after 5 a.m. off Martin Stream Road, Lancaster said, adding that Williams is believed to have fled from there on foot. Armed police were stationed at the entrance of Martin Stream Road all day, searching only cars leaving the road, which turns from pavement to gravel as it heads away from Norridgewock.

Meanwhile, spectators gathered in the rain at the western end of Jones Street on Wednesday afternoon, where police had blocked off the road and formed a perimeter with guns drawn around number 16, a blue house.

The perimeter trapped other Jones Street residents inside, many of whom were unaware of what was taking place until they looked out their windows or received calls from their loved ones. Bobby Bishop, of 21 Jones St., waited anxiously at the police line, talking to his wife on the phone while she barricaded herself inside her locked house with the couple’s dogs.

“She has a pacemaker and Parkinson’s, and I’m worried this is working her up,” he said.

Estella Fritzberg told the BDN from inside her home that she was hunkering down in her bedroom while police stood with long guns drawn just yards from her house.

She didn’t know Williams, but recalled a time a few months ago when he chased his dog into her yard. “I could smell that he used pot,” she said. “But he didn’t seem bad.”

Earlier in the day, just after 11 a.m., a Maine State Police evidence truck, led by other law enforcement vehicles, carried Cole’s body through downtown Norridgewock en route to the medical examiner’s office in Augusta. Lancaster said during a morning news conference that an autopsy will be conducted.

Cole worked for the department for 13 years. His son, David, is also a sheriff’s deputy in the department.

“We have lost an outstanding deputy today who has served with great distinction for the last 13 years,” Lancaster said. “He was one of the finest deputies you would want to meet.”

Williams had been scheduled to appear in a Massachusetts court Wednesday for an initial hearing in an illegal gun case that could lead to a sentence of more than 10 years in prison, according to a spokeswoman for the Essex County district attorney’s office and court documents.

Williams was arrested in Massachusetts last month and is facing a variety of charges including possessing a firearm without a license. He was arrested on March 22 and posted bail on March 31, according to state police and Carrie Kimball Monahan of the district attorney’s office.

In March, Massachusetts state police say they arrested Williams on Route 495 in Haverhill after finding his car in a ditch by the side of the road. Among other offenses, he was charged with illegally possessing a gun, ammunition and “a large capacity feeding device,” according to a police statement.

Williams was taken to the State Police Medford barracks and initially had his bail set at $10,000, but a judge later reduced it to $5,000, according to state police and Kimball Monahan of the district attorney’s office.

He faced a total of five criminal charges and one civil charge that could together result in a sentence of more than 13 years in prison, according to court documents.

A 32-year-old woman who was riding in Williams’ car on the night of his arrest was also charged with illegal possession of Percocet, an opioid painkiller, but not arrested, according to the police statement, which does not name her.

Williams’ criminal history in Maine begins in 2006, according to records from the Maine State Bureau of Identification. In that year, he was arrested and charged with theft by Fairfield police and later found guilty of the misdemeanor, serving two days in jail and paying $200 in restitution.

A year later, he was sentenced 17 days in jail and a year of probation on a felony burglary charge, according to the criminal background check.

People who knew Williams at Skowhegan Area High School were taken aback Wednesday that police suspect him of killing a sheriff’s deputy.

Casey Sproul-Costa of Madison, who said she was a classmate, remembered him as a caring, funny kid.

He “stuck up for others and hated bullies,” she told the Bangor Daily News. “This is a complete shock to me as I’m sure [it is to] all of our 2007 graduating class.”

Richard Rinaldi, who also graduated with Williams, said he’d been been a “stand out kid” in school but had changed dramatically since graduating.

“He’s a totally different person now,” Rinaldi, 29, of Skowhegan, said of a recent encounter with Williams.

Williams worked for an Anson-based company last summer inspecting and treating utility poles. Jim Smith, owner and president of Smith Mountain Investments, said that Williams had worked there in August and September, but left after about three weeks on the job.

With Williams still on the loose, several schools in Oakland, Waterville, Winslow and Norridgewock went into lockdown.

“This is a very sad day for for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, the city, the county and the people of the state of Maine,” Lancaster said.

The last Maine law enforcement officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty was Maine State Police Detective Giles Landry, in March 1989. Giles was shot in Leeds, according to the BDN archives.

Fryeburg Officer Nathan M. Desjardins was the last Maine law enforcement officer to die while on duty, in June 2017. Desjardins died June 6 at Central Medical Center in Lewiston from injuries sustained in a boat crash May 27 while responding to a call to search for a missing canoeist on the Saco River.

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Callie Ferguson

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