Cpl. Eugene Cole Credit: Somerset County Sheriff's Office

NORRIDGEWOCK, Maine — Deadly gunfire echoed out of this small town Wednesday and reverberated in the ears of police around the state.

The early morning death of Somerset County Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole marks the first time in nearly three decades that a member of Maine law enforcement was gunned down in the line of duty.

His killing launched an immediate hunt for the man suspected of pulling the trigger, carried out by local, county and federal officials who swarmed this rural town in the middle of Maine. Throughout the day, officers with rifles stood at road blocks on normally quiet local streets.

Scant detail on the crime was available Wednesday evening.

[Timeline: What we know about the shooting death of Cpl. Eugene Cole and the manhunt for John D. Williams]

Across the state, Cole’s colleagues expressed their condolences and mulled the type of tragedy they all know is possible but hope never to face.

“My heart goes out to Cpl. Cole’s family and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office,” said Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, the head of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association. “You hope this never happens. You hope you go through a career where you or one of your colleagues never gets killed … but we all know that when we sign on to the job that’s a possibility.”

It’s a grim prospect that Cole himself contemplated two years ago.

During a 2016 standoff with an armed man at a Norridgewock gas station — the same one that the man suspected of killing Cole allegedly robbed Wednesday — the corporal managed to prevent gunfire. When a state police negotiator talked the man into putting down his gun, Cole swiftly snatched it and shot him with a Taser, according to Maine Public.

“When we go to work, we put on a bulletproof vest, and a side-arm. Why would you have to put a bulletproof vest on?” Cole said of the incident in a 2016 interview with the broadcaster. “This is a profession that we’ve chosen and we know the risk when we go out … we all want to go home at night.”

The last member of Maine law enforcement to die in a shooting was a state police detective killed in 1989. Giles Landry was shot dead in his cruiser outside a mobile home in Leeds while investigating a child abuse case.

[Maine law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty]

Other Maine officers have died on duty more recently. On June 6, 2017, Fryeburg Officer Nathan M. Desjardins died from injuries he sustained in a boat crash during a rescue on the Saco River.

Cole, who was 61, is the third officer the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office has lost in the line of duty. He follows Deputy Sheriff Charles Richard Baker, Sr., who died in a car crash in 1999 while responding to a call, and Deputy Sheriff Dale A. MacDonald, who was killed in 1965 while pursuing a vehicle, according to state records.

When an officer never comes home from a shift, it hits colleagues, friends and family hardest, members of law enforcement said. In Cole’s case, they overlap. His son, David Cole, also is a corporal in the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

But the reverberations don’t stop there, according to Maine State Police Sgt. Jonathan Shapiro. They spread across the law enforcement community, Shapiro said, with each officer reminded of the risks they take and each family forced to envision life without a loved one.

“It’s not too difficult for them to connect the dots and realize, ‘Oh, that could be the person I love,’” Shapiro said.

In Norridgewock, Cassie Allen lives near Cole’s house on Waterville Road and has been thinking of her uncle, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry, since the shooting, she said.

“It hits home for me,” said Allen, 34. “With him being in law enforcement, and everything — that’s been weighing a lot on my mind,” she said, referring to her uncle.

Although much remained unknown about Cole’s death Wednesday evening, when a colleague is killed, it’s hard not to think of the mistrust and even hatred that some members of the public express towards police, Joyce said.

Polling indicates that public confidence in law enforcement fell sharply in recent years. In 2015, 52 percent of Americans said they had confidence in police, a two-decade low, although that number rose back towards the historic average of 57 percent in subsequent years, according to a Gallup poll.

On Wednesday afternoon, as police resolved to work past their grief and keep searching into the night, locals showed compassion.

At the gas station convenience store across from the Norridgewock Fire Department, where officers searching for Cole’s killer set up a central command, Allen watched police from dozens of local and federal agencies stream in and out. While waiting for her sandwich, she picked up the tab for a weary-looking state trooper.

“It’s been a long day and I’m sure it’s going to be a long night,” she said. “And they’ve got so many emotions going on right now.”

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.