PORTLAND, Maine — The victims of an early Wednesday morning triple shooting encountered several other groups of people during a long stroll that began in the North Deering neighborhood 2½ hours earlier, Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said Thursday.
Sauschuck noted that a large group of people seen gathered at the Big Apple convenience store at nearby 16 Washington Ave. at the time of the shooting are considered “persons of interest” in the case as “potential witnesses.”
During a news conference late Thursday afternoon, Sauschuck told reporters that detectives are retracing the Tuesday night path of the four men, who were attacked by gunfire in the area of 105 India St. at 1 a.m. Wednesday. The incident left one man, Matthew Blanchard, 24, dead and two others injured.
John Howard, 20, and Joshua Hersom, 24, underwent surgery at the hospital and are expected to recover, while a fourth member of the group was not hit by the gunfire and has not been identified by police.
Police are seeking two black or Asian men witnesses claim to have seen running west down Congress Street after the shooting. Sauschuck has said neither gang activity nor drug abuse seems to have played a part in the incident and that the surviving victims have told police they do not know their attackers.
“We have information that gives us reason to believe that our victims were walking inbound on Washington Avenue from a family member’s house in the Auburn Street area. They worked themselves intown along Baxter Boulevard, ultimately passing Kennedy Park, then walking on the intown portion of Washington Avenue to the Congress Street area, where they were ultimately shot at during this violent occurrence,” Sauschuck said.
Sauschuck said Blanchard was riding a bicycle, in part because his foot was in a cast from a previous injury, while the other three in the party were walking.
Blanchard was facing felony charges for his role in a fatal June 22 car crash in which he allegedly was driving a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license. The car’s passenger, Casey Green, 22, died after the vehicle went off Route 100 in Falmouth and struck a tree.
The surviving victims told police the four of them had begun their journey around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and reported having interacted with other pedestrians at several junctures, the chief said. Sauschuck said those interactions are not believed to have been confrontational nor precursors to the later shooting. But he said police are asking anyone who remembers seeing or speaking to the four men along their path to come forward with any details they might remember.
“There are a thousand hypotheticals,” Sauschuck said Thursday. “Maybe they saw something after they went their separate ways. Maybe [the victims] crossed the street at Washington Avenue and somebody took offense to that [without the victims realizing it].”
Sauschuck said Thursday that while investigators have received “an outpouring” of tips in the case, they believe there are many more witnesses who may not have contacted police.
He said detectives also want to talk to any individuals who made up a “larger group” of people that witnesses claim to have seen nearby at the Washington Avenue Big Apple convenience store around the time of the shooting.
Sauschuck said police have determined by using surveillance video footage that there was “heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic” near the Congress Street-India Street intersection at the time and many who passed by the area don’t realize they were witnessing the aftermath of a crime. He urged anyone who was walking or driving through the area around 1 a.m. to come forward with even seemingly insignificant details.
The shooting represents the first homicide of the year in Portland. The city had two last year and six the year before.
Police are asking anyone with information about the case or who might have seen or heard anything in the area to call detectives at 874-8533. Anonymous tips may be left at 874-8584, through a link on the department website www.portland-police.com, and by texting the keyword “GOTCHA” along with a message to 274637.