HOWLAND, Maine — The guitar player from Freeport who went missing after attending Chickenfest last weekend took his own life, the Maine State Police said Thursday.
Dean Levasseur, 24, a member of the fusion-reggae band Roots, Rhythm & Dub for the last two years, hiked with his fellow bandmates for 2½ miles through the woods off Lagrange Road to get to Saturday’s party — hosted every spring by University of Maine students at a different, secret location.
“We followed the music,” Josh Hunnefeld, the band’s bass player and Levasseur’s friend of four years, said Tuesday as he prepared to search for his friend in the woods around where the party was held. “We dropped off our gear behind the stage” and never saw him again.
Levasseur’s body was found just a few hundred yards west of the stage on Wednesday morning.
“Dean Levasseur died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head,” Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “A handgun Levasseur had purchased earlier in the month was found with his body.”
The band played at Kingman’s bar in Old Town on Friday night, said University of Maine student Hugh Valaitis of Waldoboro, a drummer for the band. He was one of the 150 or so family members, friends and volunteers who showed up to search for Levasseur on Tuesday and Wednesday.
About an hour after arriving at Chickenfest, Levasseur’s bandmates took the stage at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday and called for Levasseur to come play his guitar, but he never showed.
“We thought he’d recognize the music and come running, but he didn’t,” said Hunnefeld, a UMaine student.
“State Police detectives say their investigation indicates that Levasseur likely shot himself about 1:30 Sunday morning, about a quarter mile from the stage area of the outdoor gathering that he was scheduled to play his guitar at,” McCausland said in the statement.
Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department officers found the annual secret drinking and music party off Lagrange Road on Saturday night and called state police for assistance. Sheriff’s deputies covered the area until 4 a.m., when state police took over, Maine State Police Trooper Thomas Fiske said.
Once the party was discovered, police stopped people from going up the dirt road toward it. But they could do nothing to break up the gathering, which attracted 200 to 400 college-age people, since it was on private logging company land and the property owner had not requested they be removed, Fiske explained.
To get around the law, attendees, including Levasseur and his pals, “ended up parking elsewhere and hiking through the woods to get there,” the trooper said.
Robert Dana, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at the University of Maine, said Chickenfest is “sort of a counterculture, independently derived and independently delivered … hootenanny in the woods.”
The off-campus gathering was started by UMaine students 12 to 15 years ago, he said, but he’s not sure UMaine students continue to host it.
“I’m not 100 percent sure it is students from our campus anymore,” Dana said. “I’m told now that it’s sort of a statewide [event].”
“It could involve UMaine students, but it could involve others as well,” the dean of students said.
Dana said he has never been to Chickenfest but has been told attendees “include older adults, high schoolers and people from other colleges and universities.”
Chickenfest “is usually held in a different area of northern Penobscot County, so law enforcement can’t find the location, [although we do every year],” the Maine State Police website said.
In recent years, Chickenfest has been held in LaGrange, Argyle and just outside Greenfield, Fiske said.
Dana said there would be trouble for any UMaine students linked to the “completely unregulated” woods party.
“If any University of Maine students were found responsible for hosting the unsanctioned and dangerous party, we would take action at the university,” the dean said.
After Chickenfest ended, state police learned from Freeport police that Levasseur was missing. The Maine Warden Service searched the area on Monday with a search and rescue canine but the torrential downpour prevented the dog from picking up any human scent, warden Sgt. Ronald Dunham said.
Levasseur sent a text message at around 1:30 a.m. Sunday and that was the last message he ever made, the sergeant said.
State police detectives believe Levasseur likely shot himself shortly afterward.
The state of Maine’s suicide hotline referral number is 888-568-1112.
For information about suicide prevention, click here.