FARMINGTON, Maine — State police are urging local residents to watch for changes in behavior of friends and relatives or for someone with cuts on their hands that might indicate involvement in a home invasion Tuesday in which an 81-year-old woman was attacked and later died.
Maine State Police Lt. Brian McDonough said Tuesday afternoon that someone forced his way into Grace Burton’s first-floor apartment at 195 Fairbanks Road at about 1 a.m. Tuesday. The apartment is in the Margaret Chase Smith elderly housing complex.
McDonough said police were looking for a man of small to medium build, about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, wearing dark clothing and a black hooded sweat shirt, and carrying a black backpack.
“He’s not a big person,” the lieutenant said.
Witnesses provided police with the description of someone seen walking Fairbanks Road/Route 4 just north of the downtown early Tuesday.
Farmington police responded to a 911 call from Burton after she fought an attacker in her home. The attacker suffered cuts, officials said.
The first officer arrived within about two minutes and found Burton on the floor with life-threatening injuries, McDonough said. She was taken to Franklin Memorial Hospital and then flown to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she died about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
A dozen state police detectives joined Farmington police and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in the investigation.
McDonough wouldn’t comment on whether it was a random incident or a planned attack. He also would not comment on whether anything was taken from the home.
“Police are seeking the public’s help to report any suspicious activity along Fairbanks Road and Route 4 between midnight and 2 a.m.,” said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Neighbors in the 10-unit complex were unaware of the incident until police arrived, said a tenant who didn’t want to be identified.
“I bet she fought tooth and nail,” the woman said of Burton, whom the neighbor described as active and independent.
Other tenants wondered how safe they would be in the complex, she said.
She said police told her, “Today is the longest day of the year and we intend to solve it before the day is over.”
The housing manager visited each tenant Tuesday to check on their welfare, said David Farmer of Stanford Management, which manages the housing complex.
“It’s a terrible tragedy, a tragic act of violence that’s left the whole community shaken,” he said.
The management company had made arrangements with Evergreen Behavioral Services at Franklin Memorial Hospital to provide support to tenants either at the hospital or at their homes to help them cope with the tragedy, he said.
Evergreen provides emergency mental health response programs in Greater Franklin County, according to the Franklin Community Health Network website.
Although Farmer had not met the victim, he said his co-workers had described her as a lovely woman and a good tenant. He refrained from saying how long she had lived there.
Tenants couldn’t believe it was “Grace, of all people,” said a neighbor, who did not want to be identified.
Burton was always going out to the store or somewhere with family members, the neighbor said. Burton often would have friends over to play cards and she had a great sense of humor, the woman added.
She said she had planned to invite Burton outside Tuesday for some iced tea and sunshine, but instead she was answering questions about her and trying to console her neighbors.
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