Thousands gathered inside the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on Monday for the funeral of a Somerset County sheriff’s deputy who was fatally shot while on duty late last month.
“The hours and days since then have been agonizing,” said Somerset County Sheriff’s Detective David Cole, who shared the rank of corporal with his late father, Cpl. Eugene Cole. “I slowly began to realize what dad had prepared us for our entire lives. He taught us to be strong.”
He spoke to a crowd of 3,600 people, mostly law enforcement officers from across the state and country, who began streaming in around 8 a.m. to attend the noon service, organized by Cpl. Eugene Cole’s family, the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police.
David Cole urged the audience to remember that his father’s death does not mean the end of his story. “The story will continue on,” he said. “We’ve reached the end of an amazing chapter.”
“Cpl. Eugene Cole: End of watch, 4/25/18,” David Cole said. “Rest easy, Dad. We’ve got the watch from here.”
— Alex Acquisto (@AcquistoA) May 7, 2018
Cole’s funeral was the first to ever be held inside the Cross Insurance Center, which was outfitted to seat about 8,000 on Monday. His slaying marked the first time a Maine law enforcement officer was fatally shot in the line of duty in nearly 30 years. Giles Landry, a 36-year-old Maine State Police detective, was fatally shot in 1989 and his funeral drew 1,800 to the Central Maine Youth Center in Lewiston.
Cole, 61, was shot in the neck and died while on patrol early in the early morning hours on April 25 by a suspect who fled after allegedly stealing Cole’s marked police truck and robbing a convenience store before abandoning the car on a two-lane road in Norridgewock.
John D. Williams, 29, evaded police for four days, triggering a sprawling nationwide manhunt. He was found in the Norridgewock woods and arrested on April 29, not far from where he allegedly abandoned Cole’s vehicle.
Williams is being held without bail at the Maine State Prison in Warren and has been charged with intentional or knowing murder.
“I want to give everyone a hug and a handshake,” said Thomas Tardiff, carrying the Blue Lives Matter flag. pic.twitter.com/5VqEg35BEr
— Alex Acquisto (@AcquistoA) May 7, 2018
On Monday morning, a procession of police cars escorted Cole’s casket from Skowhegan to Bangor, flashing their lights and sounding their sirens as the fleet made its way north up Interstate 95. Crowds formed on the overpasses to watch as the motorcade as it passed beneath.
Uniformed members of the Bangor Police Department and other Maine law enforcement agencies, wearing formal white gloves, lined the block outside of the southeast entrance of the Cross Center on Main Street, awaiting the arrival. An American flag, hoisted by local firefighters from the ladder of an fire engine outside, fluttered in the wind as the sun shone brightly outside the arena.
Lining the sidewalk at entrance of the Cross Center, members of the first chapter of the Patriot Riders of America stood at attention holding American flags. Officers walked by and thanked them for being there.
“We want to show our respect for the people who put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis,” said member and Sanford resident Anita Bergeron.
As tragic as it is, something like the loss of a colleague while on patrol “certainly does bring officers closer together,” said Tiffany Simoneau, pointing to the rows of officers from different state agencies in formation along Bass Park Boulevard where, minutes later, the hearse carrying Cole’s body arrived.
“It’s sad, but it’s a healthy reminder that we’re so vulnerable, but there’s strength in what we do,” said Simoneau, a Lewiston-based corrections and probation officer who said she worked with Cole a few times over the years.
Massachusetts State Trooper Tom Wilson, who made the three-hour-plus drive on his own time with 40 of his colleagues, said it’s always tragic when a fellow officer dies, but when one dies under these circumstances, it really rattles police forces everywhere.
“When it’s homicide, it’s usually where everybody takes a step back,” he said.
Some of the larger departments that attended Monday’s service sent designated color guards — such as the New York City Police, he said — but members from smaller departments attended on their own time, Wilson said.
Before Monday’s service began and as people took their seats inside the arena, two large screens on either side of a flag-lined stage displayed photos of Cole set to music.
That music faded to silence as the motorcade escorting Cole’s casket arrived in Bangor just before noon.
Law enforcement officers rose to their feet as they watched a live stream of the procession outside, their badges glimmering under the arena lights and against their black, blue, and brown uniforms.
Cpl. Eugene Cole’s family waits for the casket to be taken inside pic.twitter.com/dxjwDTvF2i
— Alex Acquisto (@AcquistoA) May 7, 2018
Floor seating inside the Cross Center was reserved for the law enforcement who greeted Cole’s casked as it arrived outside. They filed into rows by agency, their differently colored uniforms creating bands of red, brown and blue in front of the stage, where Cole’s marked Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck was parked, flanked by bouquets of flowers.
The service began with a show of unity among law enforcement. In silence, officers from 15 of Maine’s 16 counties posted their flags behind the stage, followed by representatives from all six New England states. A funeral honor guard carried in the Somerset County flag last.
The wail of bagpipes and rattle of drums soon filled the arena with music, as a funeral band led Cole’s casket, draped in the American flag and flanked by a funeral guard, toward the stage to be placed before his cruiser, marked “Sheriff.”
Funeral speakers remembered Cole, a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s department, as a good-humored, well-respected local officer who earned a reputation for his fair and skilled handling of tense situations, and who became a mentor to the young deputies in the department.
“Gene was a man, a deputy who treated everyone he met with respect,” Somerset County Sheriff’s Chaplain Kevin Brooks said. Younger deputies jokingly called him “Gramps,” but “in reality, though, to many, he was like a dad,” Brooks said.
He drew attention to Cole’s sense of humor, and how he got a good laugh at scaring his colleagues by sounding his sirens when they weren’t expecting it.
Having become a police officer in his 40s — he spent the beginning of his career running a local TV repair shop — Cole brought decades of life experience to his role as a police officer, and with it, “a sense of empathy” to those he served, Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said.
The police academy is physically grueling and emotionally taxing, and as an older cadet, “Gene embraced the challenge” in a show of grit and commitment that would characterize his 13 years at the sheriff’s department, Lancaster said. He wanted to protect and serve the place he grew up, went to school, met his wife, Sheryl, and where he raised his family.
“He epitomized community policing,” Lancaster said. “He wanted to keep his hometown safe.”
And for the residents of Somerset County, he said, “he paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Cole was also remembered on Monday for his love of music and his skill as a guitarist, and musical performances featured heavily in the funeral program.
“There is singing of music in heaven. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gene has already joined the band up there, and is playing lead guitar,” Brooks said.
“That’s what my family’s all about: we always sang,” said Tom Cole, Gene’s brother, who sang a tribute to his brother. Eugene’s former band, Borderline Express, opened the service with a performance of “American Soldier.”
Tom Cole expressed his gratitude to the law enforcement officers who rallied around his family in the weeks since his brother’s death. For David Cole, who lost both his father and his colleague, that solidarity helped him confront what he called the “nightmare” that began in the early hours of April 25.
That morning, “I told my mom my dad died,” David Cole said, struggling to hold back his tears. “I watched the strongest woman I know break. I broke with her.”
Cole’s mother, Gloria Cole, who suffered a heart attack in the days following her son’s death, was still in the hospital and not able to attend the funeral, her daughter, Sherryl Cole Sirois said.
Amazing Grace plays on the bagpipes as people look to the skies over Cole’s graveside ceremony. pic.twitter.com/daiOuhW2eq
— Callie Ferguson (@calliecferguson) May 7, 2018
After Brooks’ remarks and benediction, and a final musical performance, Cole’s casket was led outside for a “graveside” ceremony in the parking lot of the Cross Center. Cole’s family intends to cremate his remains, a Smart & Edwards Funeral Home employee confirmed.
Officers stood quietly in the sunlight facing the family and Cole’s widow, Sheryl, who sat and watched as officers escorted her husband’s body to the hearse. Trumpeters performed Taps, and the American flag draping Cole’s casked was folded and given to Sheryl.
A silence fell. Then, to the sound of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” five state law enforcement planes flew in formation overhead, drawing the gaze of the crowd toward the sky.
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