FRYEBURG, Maine — Growing up in Fairfield, Nathan Desjardins was the type of kid who stood up for his classmates, according to his former teacher.
Before he became a police officer, Desjardins was seen by teachers and fellow students in school as a “caretaker.” He regularly intervened on behalf of bullied students, and ensured that special-needs classmates felt included and weren’t teased in class, according to Mike McGee, Desjardins’ former physical education teacher at Fairfield’s Lawrence Junior High School.
“He was probably one of the finest individuals I’ve been around in 35 years,” said McGee, who is retiring at the end of this school year. “His heart is the size of a gymnasium.”
McGee, a former longtime high school varsity basketball and junior high cross country coach, never coached Desjardins, but did have him as a student in his physical education class.
“He put himself last and put the needs of others first,” McGee said of Desjardins. “He would always pick up the underdog.”
Desjardins, 20, died Tuesday of injuries he suffered in a boat crash on Memorial Day weekend while trying to rescue boaters whose canoe capsized during Desjardins’ first day of water rescue training with Fryeburg Police Department. A second officer, who was operating the boat when it struck an obstacle tossing both men into the water, was injured but has since been released from the hospital.
Desjardins had been working for the department for about three months. The body of one of the canoeists, Jennifer Bousquet, 38, of South Berwick, was found later that day by a diver. A man in the canoe made it to shore safely.
“He died trying to save someone,” McGee said of Desjardins. “That’s him to a ‘T.’”
Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, a friend of the Desjardins family, said the young officer came from a law enforcement background and was raised a “good, squared-away kid.” Both his mother and father have worked in law enforcement, according to Cyrway.
“He just loved the idea of being an officer and would have [had a great career],” Cyrway said. “I think he just wanted to be in a position to help people in his community.”
Desjardins was a nursing student at the University of New England in Biddeford. The university issued a statement earlier this week expressing condolences to his family.
“It was his passion for helping people that made him a gifted nursing student, and he will always be part of the UNE family,” university officials said.
People who knew Desjardins and his family said he’s left a lasting mark.
“He’ll always be at the back of my mind,” Cyrway said.
Funeral arrangements are still being made, according to Fryeburg Police Department.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.