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BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor man who may have been one of the last people to see a missing Florida firefighter was identified by Maine State Police on Monday as a “person of interest” in the case.
“We strongly feel foul play is likely,” state police Lt. Christopher Coleman said at a joint press conference held with Bangor police. “At this point we remain optimistic, but as time goes by we have to be realistic.”
Jerry Perdomo, 31, of Orange City, Fla. — a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the Seminole County Fire Department — has been missing since Feb. 16. His rental car was found abandoned at the Bangor Walmart the next day.
Authorities collected evidence from a house in the Waldo County town of Jackson over the weekend and are searching two cars driven by the person of interest, Daniel Porter, 24, as well as the missing Florida man’s rental car, said Coleman, who leads the state police Major Crimes Unit for northern Maine.
The house is rented by Porter’s father, who has been out of state since last fall, but Porter has been staying there in recent weeks, a neighbor said. Investigators believe the house is the last place that Perdomo was seen.
A team of Bangor police and state police investigators also searched a load of trash from area Hannaford grocery stores last week at the Penobscot Energy Recovery Co. plant in Orrington, plant manager Peter Prata said Monday. In addition, police said detectives went through a trash receptacle at the Hannaford store near Walmart over the weekend.
Meanwhile, family and friends of Perdomo held out hope the firefighter will turn up.
“We just want him to come home,” Tonya Perdomo, wife of the missing man, told The Associated Press from her home in Orange City, Fla.
Porter and his 25-year-old girlfriend, Cheyanne Nowak, may have been the last ones to see Perdomo, police say. Investigators and detectives spent the past two days collecting evidence from the Jackson residence, including a rolled-up piece of carpet and other items.
Game wardens also searched a small pond behind the residence and found nothing, Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said Monday morning.
Police were at the Orrington trash-to-energy plant on Feb. 23, Prata said.
“They wanted to see if we could segregate a load” from Hannaford, the plant manager said, adding that police wouldn’t say what they were looking for. “They were really tight-lipped.”
Seven to nine investigators from state police and Bangor police went through the load and spent about three hours at the Orrington plant, according to Prata.
Coleman would not say why Porter is a person of interest in the case and Nowak, who has a theft and two drug possession convictions on her record, is not.
Porter and Nowak recently bought a car and left their old car, a white 2002 Mitsubishi Lancer registered to Nowak, at an Oakland dealership and both cars have been taken as evidence, Coleman said. He declined to say when the couple purchased the car they were in when authorities found them.
“Porter and Nowak were located and interviewed in Connecticut by detectives this past week and have now returned to Maine,” he said.
The couple are not in custody, McCausland said Monday.
Members of Perdomo’s family and fellow Florida firefighters arrived in Bangor last week to search for him and put up missing-person posters.
One poster was placed on a utility pole outside the Jackson home.
The missing man’s brother-in-law Chris Lerch of Florida said he spoke to state police Detective Troy Gardner on Monday morning at the Bangor police station.
“He said they are compiling all the information and Jerry is still missing,” Lerch said, standing in front of the building.
Seminole County firefighter Troy Todak said he is in Bangor doing what his missing friend would do for him if their roles were reversed.
“He’s a brother firefighter and he’s missed,” Todak said. “That is why we’re here.”
Lerch said he is in Maine to ensure that his family in Florida is kept informed about what is happening.
“I’m just here to give everybody back home the information and reassure them everything that can be done is being done,” the Florida man said.
The disappearance is difficult for the entire Perdomo family, which includes nine siblings, but it has been especially hard for Perdomo’s mother, Lerch said.
Perdomo’s wife described the father of 3- and 10-year-old children as “a dedicated dad. He helps people out a lot.”
“He was always doing something for somebody,” Tonya Perdomo told the AP. “He’s very sociable. He was in the service and knows a lot of people.”
“She just said he went up there to visit a friend and he was helping a friend move,” Perdomo’s friend and Florida firefighter and paramedic Shane Rogers said after Tonya Perdomo held a press conference Monday in Florida. “It was not unusual for him to have women as friends. He was in the Marines and had friends all over the place.”
Perdomo, who served in Iraq, is described as a 200-pound Puerto Rican male, 5 feet, 11 inches tall with black hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a black zip-up hooded sweatshirt, fatigue shorts and black sneakers.
Rumors are swirling about the connection between Perdomo and the Maine couple, but police offered no new information at Monday’s news conference.
“The reason for his visit [to Maine] is very important to us,” Coleman said of Perdomo.
The state police lieutenant and Bangor police Lt. Tim Reid wouldn’t discuss the evidence collected so far and declined to speculate about whether Perdomo may be injured or dead.
“Our goal, remember, is to locate Jerry Perdomo,” Coleman said, adding, “It’s fair to say there will be other searches.”
Perdomo and his wife do not have criminal records in Florida, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Messages left for Nowak and Porter on their Facebook pages by the Bangor Daily News have not been returned.
Nowak posted a sympathetic message on her Facebook page early Friday.
“I don’t know what else to do,” the message said. “I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry your friend is missing. It is a terrible thing. I am so sorry about this. But I can do nothing further.”
Those with information about Perdomo’s whereabouts are asked to call the Bangor Police Department at 947-7382. The department’s anonymous tip line can be reached by pressing ext. 6. People with information also may call the Maine State Police at 624-7076.
BDN writers Abigail Curtis and Judy Harrison and The Associated Press contributed to this report.