LUBEC, Maine — Fearful of what she would learn — yet anxious to hear something — the mother of a missing periwinkle harvester waited for hours Wednesday for word of her son who had been reported missing by a friend Tuesday night.
While a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter from Air Station Cape Cod searched the waters near the Channel Lighthouse, more than three dozen police, firefighters, marine patrol officers and other volunteers scoured the beach throughout the night looking for 27-year-old Kristopher Ferguson. On Wednesday a Canadian Coast Guard helicopter also aided in the search.
All that Donna Ferguson of Bangor knew was that her son had been picking “wrinkles” with Dennis Knox, 47, in the Lubec Narrows Tuesday night near the lighthouse known locally as the Sparkplug, when her son went missing.
The area is popular with harvesters of periwinkles, a small, edible species of gilled snail found in coastal areas from Maine to Virginia, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. Harvesters call them “wrinkles” for short.
Pickers either go by boat or walk out onto the flats. Tuesday night, Knox and Ferguson had reached the flats by foot off Lower Water Street, in what is known as the Brownville section of Lubec.
Police learned of Ferguson’s disappearance around 10 p.m.
Knox told Sgt. Jack Fuller of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office that he had asked Ferguson to leave the flats because the tide was coming in. Knox told Fuller that the “last time he saw [Ferguson] he was still picking wrinkles. [Knox] got to the car and Kris was not behind him and he went down and he could hear Kris hollering because the tide was coming in,” Fuller said Wednesday.
Knox told Fuller that he then went to the nearby U.S. Customs Office at the foot of the Roosevelt-Campobello International Bridge to get help. Knox told the agents, who called Fuller, that “there didn’t seem to be any emergency at that time,” according to the sergeant. “[Knox] just thought [Ferguson] was on a [high spot or sandbar] waiting for the Coast Guard to pick him up.”
Knox told Fuller that he went back to the shore from the Customs office and that he still could hear Ferguson yelling.
When Fuller arrived shortly after 10 p.m. he couldn’t see or hear Ferguson so he called in searchers.
“We probably had 40 people out on the beach, with ATVs working the area,” the sergeant said.
The U.S. Coast Guard sent its 41-foot utility boat and 25-foot response boat from Station Eastport. Civilian boats also aided in the search. The Coast Guard broadcast an alert on its marine channel saying that a man wearing blue coveralls, a black hat and orange gloves was in the water and asked mariners to be on the lookout for him.
The search was called off around 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“The tide was down [Wednesday morning] and we didn’t feel he was in that area,” Marine Patrol Officer Russell Wright said Wednesday night about why the search was suspended. Wright also noted that given the number of volunteers as well as equipment involved, the search of the area had been thorough. “I think we did an excellent search,” he said.
Donna Ferguson said Wednesday she thought “there was some foul play involved.” She did not elaborate.
Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith said Wednesday night, however, that the incident “is not being considered suspicious at this time. But the investigation will continue Thursday.”
At about the same time that the search was being suspended, a detective from the Maine State Police criminal investigation division arrived on the scene. Detective Micah Perkins said he had been called in to help. “We were just asked to come down here to give them a hand,” he said.
At that time police moved their base of operations to the town office where marine patrol officers, sheriff’s deputies and Perkins compared notes.
Meanwhile, Ferguson’s friends and relatives remembered him on Wednesday.
Mary Stuart, who is Kristopher Ferguson’s aunt, said her nephew was hardworking. “A good boy,” she said of him. She said he was a caretaker for a house on South Lubec Road. “He was a working father.”
“He was very good father, he was a single dad,” Ferguson’s mother added through tears. She said her grandson Joedean, 5, lived with his father.
Bill Daye, chairman of the Lubec Board of Selectmen and one of the volunteers who helped in the search, said he knew Ferguson. “He went to high school with my kids. He had a twin brother, they were basketball stars in school,” Daye said. Ferguson’s twin brother, Kenny, lives in southern Maine.
Mary Sue Murphy said Ferguson used to eat at her restaurant. She said that Ferguson, like many in Washington County, had several jobs — “what everybody does around here just odd-jobbing it, trying to make a living.”