SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Maine — After a year of waiting, friends of Pete Peterson finally received the news Wednesday that many had expected but few had wanted: Human remains found in a wooded lot belonged to the well-known Southwest Harbor man.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office used DNA from additional remains and materials found at the site earlier this month to positively identify Peterson, who has been missing since last September.
Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine State Police, said the investigation into Peterson’s disappearance is done from his agency’s standpoint.
“There is no determination of a cause of death but there is no indication of foul play,” McCausland said. “Our role is pretty much complete.”
Wednesday’s announcement, although painful for some, is likely to help bring closure for Peterson’s friends on Mount Desert Island and beyond who staged numerous search parties in the weeks after his disappearance and never forgot about the 61-year-old man with developmental disabilities.
Peterson, a lifelong resident of the Southwest Harbor area, was a well-known figure in town often found visiting or volunteering at the local library or spending time at local businesses. Despite his disabilities, Peterson lived on his own with the help of numerous friends in the community and occasionally hitchhiked to Ellsworth and Bangor to visit bookstores.
Southwest Harbor police were flooded with tips of where to look and offers of assistance in the days immediately after Peterson was reported missing. Sue Parsley, a local resident who knew Peterson, set up a separate “Remembering Pete Peterson” page on Facebook back in January to give people a forum to share information and memories.
Parsley said Wednesday evening that a vigil for Peterson will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in Southwest Harbor, although an exact location had not yet been nailed down. The vigil is intended to help the local community begin to achieve some closure while those closest to Peterson take care of his affairs and decide how to proceed.
“He was just a fixture of our community,” Parsley said. “You’d see him everywhere.”
Although some never gave up hope that Peterson was still alive, many others suspected he had died but his remains had yet to be found. Those suspicions intensified after a landowner found a partial set of human remains in August in woods on his property near a Southwest Harbor subdivision.
But a positive identification could not be made using the remains. On Sept. 16, more than 40 searchers from various law enforcement agencies returned to the site to search for additional remains or other items to help with the identification process.
McCausland said the medical examiner’s office was able to make the positive identification with the help of remains and personal items discovered during the subsequent search.