BELFAST, Maine — The vandalism that greeted the downtown on the morning of Aug. 8 was disheartening to business owners, many of whom were enjoying one of the best tourism seasons in years.
The downtown streets had been spruced up to welcome those many visitors, and the vandalism tarnished the small-town charm.
A window was broken at MacLeod’s Furniture and plants had been ripped from flower boxes on High Street.
At the City Park, it was worse. A snack booth had been broken into and a soda machine overturned.
At the park pool, where scores of children found relief from the summer heat each day, it was worse still. A liquor bottle had been smashed in the pool, and the lifeguard stand pushed into the water. The broken glass meant the pool had to be drained and cleaned, keeping it closed for days.
One of the three men charged with aggravated criminal mischief in connection with the vandalism spree is vowing to mark that day as a turning point in his life.
Damion Saucier, 19, of Belfast wrote a letter to the city earlier this month taking responsibility for his role in the vandalism. Acknowledging his actions were “wrong and shameful,” he wrote “to show you that I know this was a grievous mistake and not something that will be repeated in the future.”
He also offered to do volunteer work on any city projects.
Speaking to the BDN on Friday, Oct. 19, Saucier shook his head and cast his eyes downward when asked if such acts had been a regular problem for him.
“This is the first time I’ve done something like this before,” he said. “It was pretty unlike me.”
He struggled with the inevitable “Why?” question.
“I can’t attribute that to anything but my own stupidity,” he said.
Saucier and the other men who were charged — Jacob Denham, 21, and William Hurley, 20, both of Belfast — had gotten alcohol from an area convenience store and drank, police have said. After walking to the park pool, climbing the fence and jumping into the water and swimming around for an hour, Saucier said things took a turn for the worse.
The lifeguard stand was pushed into the water, and the destructive actions escalated.
Saucier, who lives with his mother in Belfast, dropped out of Belfast Area High School as a junior.
“School never really clicked with me,” he said, in part because he found himself frequently questioning directives.
“I like to ask ‘Why?’” he said. “I was never really accepting of people telling me this is the way you have to do things.”
Saucier tried BCOPE, the district’s alternative high school designed for those at-risk of dropping out, and though that program was better suited to his needs, he did not graduate.
Saucier is particularly interested in science and mathematics, and speaks with some enthusiasm about recent technological breakthroughs in the field of nanorobotics, something he has read about.
He knows he needs more education, and is exploring the option of attending the private alternative Community School in Camden. He also has thought about studying business and starting his own pawn shop.
At present, though, he has no job and no drivers license. He has been outside the state just three times on trips to Canada and New Hampshire.
He doesn’t believe he has a substance abuse problem.
“I’ve never had a problem with alcohol, or with anything,” he said.
Saucier speaks of a recent period of his life in which he retreated into himself, a period of “self-pity, self-loathing,” in which he felt like “a room without walls,” passing through the world without connecting with it.
“I never thought I was going to amount to anything,” he said.
One place that gave him some sense of belonging was Belfast’s The Game Loft, a clubhouse on Main Street run as a nonprofit by Ray and Patricia Estabrook. It’s a place where teens and pre-teens hang out and play card and roleplaying games.
Saucier figures he has been active there for ten years, most recently as a volunteer.
In his letter, and in the BDN interview, he argued that teens need more recreational and social opportunities. Other than The Game Loft, YMCA and Skate Park, there are few places “where teens can go to gain a social belonging,” he wrote. And those three places tend to attract individual cliques, he said.
“The town should focus a little more on options for them,” he said, explaining that, in his view, society has little to offer those in the years between daycare and adulthood.
Saucier hopes the incident can mark a turning point in his life.
“I hope having this experience earlier that later [in life] will benefit me,” he said.
The charges have not been resolved in court yet.