OAKFIELD, Maine — Police have arrested a 32-year-old man in connection with the deaths of two people amid a shooting and an outbreak of fires early Monday morning in Oakfield and neighboring Island Falls.
Matthew Davis of Houlton was found by troopers at about 10:45 a.m. in a stolen vehicle on Beaver Dam Point Road in Island Falls, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety.
McCausland said Davis was wanted for questioning in connection with the shootings and fires but is currently being held on a stolen vehicle charge.
Police are investigating whether Davis allegedly killed the victims and set fire to a house in Oakfield, used a stolen vehicle to get to a boat landing on Upper Mattawamkeag Lake in Island Falls, burned the vehicle, and possibly attempted to take a kayak before stealing another vehicle.
The incidents forced the cancellation of classes at Southern Aroostook Community School in Dyer Brook, which serves students from Island Falls, Oakfield, Dyer Brook, Smyrna, Merrill and Crystal. Other area schools in Regional School Unit 50 remained open but were placed on lockdown as a precaution.
State police did not immediately release the names of the deceased, but neighbor Tracy Tarr said they were an unmarried couple — a mechanic and a social worker — who had been together for at least nine years. Tarr said her best friend is the deceased man’s niece.
Tarr said her first inkling of the incidents was the sound of gunfire at about 4 a.m., which she recognized because Oakfield has a lot of hunters. She heard one group of shots that sounded in the distance, then another that sounded much closer.
Firefighters found the man and woman inside the 331 Oakfield-Smyrna Road home in Oakfield, McCausland said. Two other blazes were reported, including a torched pickup and a fire at Katahdin Forest Products, less than a mile from the house.
Firefighters at the home “were pushing everybody back because the smoke was horrible,” Tarr said.
Tarr said her friend “was horrified. She was just screaming and crying.”
The death of the woman, Tarr said, is especially sad. A very friendly, giving person, she was a social worker who helped three of Tarr’s seven grandchildren, she noted.
“I can’t believe it would happen in my neighborhood. You hear about it happening in the big cities, but you never think it is going to happen here,” Tarr said.
According to an eyewitness, Route 2 was shut down as police swarmed the area looking for the suspect.
Island Falls firefighters blocked access to Richardson Road and the public boat landing to Mattawamkeag Lake — under orders, they said, from state police examining the burned vehicle, which might have been stolen from Katahdin Forest Products.
Island Falls resident Michael Vining said he saw the smoke and flames from what turned out to be the burning vehicle across a portion of Upper Mattawamkeag Lake as he started driving to work from his home off Beaver Dam Point Road at about 5:25 a.m.
The fire burned bright in the early morning dark and appeared to be about “two or three houses” from the boat landing off Brooks Road, he said.
“I went back home and told my wife, ‘Somebody’s house is on fire,’” Vining said. “I was 99.9 percent sure that it was a house. To me it looked like a structure burning.”
Later, neighbors called to say that state police had arrested the suspect in a black compact car, which Vining said looked like a Nissan, after the suspect had used a kayak to cross part of the lake.
Inside A Place To Eat, an Oakfield restaurant, one couple said that the victims had dined at the restaurant the night before. Described as “wonderful people,” they had lived together at the residence on Oakfield-Smyrna Road.
Linda Miller, a Smyrna resident, said she was “shocked” when she heard about the crime.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I have lived here for close to 20 years, and I know that we have problems with drugs like other communities, but this is just way above and beyond. When I heard that there was someone on the loose, I was so frightened.”
Lynn Mitchell of Patten stayed overnight at a friend’s home and awoke to the news of the shooting Monday morning. Her stepchildren attend school in Dyer Brook, and they called to alert her they did not have classes that day.
“With the arson and the murders and someone accused of something like this on the loose, it’s frightening to see this level of violence around here,” she said. “And there were so many rumors flying around. I told the kids to stay in the house, lock the doors and windows and don’t open them for anyone until I got home.”
Vining, too, locked his doors Monday.
“And the funny thing is,” he said, “that prior to this morning, you could have gotten my keys from my car. … Not anymore.”
According to BDN archives, Davis has prior convictions for operating a vehicle while under the influence of intoxicants and unlawful possession of gift moose. He was fined $500 and had his license suspended for 90 days on the OUI charge in December 2011 in Aroostook County Superior Court. He was fined $1,000 for the game violation in November 2010 in the same court.
An earlier version of this story requires correction. Katahdin Forest Products is in Oakfield, not Island Falls.