Mash up of unrelated events leads to school lockdowns, confusion in Machias

By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 21, 2011, at 9:31 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A pair of events Friday that were unconnected and happened about five hours apart caused a bit of a stir in this Washington County community.

They also led to lockdowns at Washington Academy and nearby East Machias Elementary School and reports that a local gas station was robbed by a man with a gun.

“I do not know how this tide of information boiled into a tsunami,” Machias Police Chief Grady Dwelley said early Friday evening. “I don’t know why this has been blown so out of proportion.”

Dwelley said the first of the two unrelated events happened around 7 a.m., when he and several other Machias police officers were called out to a local residence for a domestic violence incident.

As a matter of protocol, police officers determined that the suspect, who is a hunter, owned guns.

“If we think the person is still in the house, then we attempt to find out if the suspect has weapons,” he said.

When the officers arrived and searched the residence, both the suspect and his guns were gone, Dwelley said.

Over the course of the next few hours, police determined the suspect got a ride from a friend to Archibald’s One Stop, Dwelley said. The suspect left while the friend was getting gas. Police learned that he dropped his guns off to a family member.

The second unconnected event happened near the Down East Sunrise Trail, where a woman was hiking with another person, Dwelley said.

“That’s prime duck hunting area. It’s also prime hiking area. It’s duck season and a hunter jumps up and pops a duck — adios,” he said.

“At that point, we were still looking for [the domestic violence suspect] and that may be where the comedy of errors began,” Dwelley said.

“How this created a perfect storm, quite frankly, is beyond me,” he said.

He said it appeared, at least initially, that the two events somehow got put together by “well-intentioned people — well-intentioned but misinformed.”

At some point early Friday afternoon, the local schools were put into lockdown mode based on what appears to him to be flawed information.

“We appreciate all of the information we receive from the public but we investigate it,” he said.

“I have no problem with them closing the schools down but somebody should have called somebody who actually knew what was going on, to at least get the underlying facts,” he said, adding that he could have told them the domestic violence suspect had just been seen walking four miles to the east.

Shortly after that, rumors began to circulate that Archibald’s had been robbed.

“I have no clue where that one came from,” he said.

Kelly Hughes, who was working at the One Stop on Friday, said she also had no idea how that story started. She did say that it alarmed her daughter, who is a junior at Washington Academy and heard the holdup report while the school was in lockdown mode.

Hughes said she had heard about the duck hunter incident, “but that was it. We didn’t get robbed.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/10/21/news/down-east/mash-up-of-unrelated-events-leads-to-school-lockdowns-confusion-in-machias/ printed on September 22, 2014