Luke Gross was one of the good guys.
That’s how a community reeling from the sudden death of Hancock County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Luke Gross described the long-time law enforcement officer.
Gross, 44, of Hancock, was killed early Thursday morning when he was hit by a car while responding to a call on Route 3 in Trenton.
“He was an amazing man. Always there whenever anybody needed him,” Christina Leeman Gramolini of Hancock said Thursday. “This is a huge, huge loss.”
On Thursday, people around the county and beyond remembered — often through tears — the way that the deputy genuinely cared about the people of Hancock County. They expressed their shock at his death and their sorrow for his wife and two children.
Gramolini shared those feelings, too. But she went a little further than that. For her, Gross had been “like a guardian angel.”
“I met him on, so far, the worst day of my life,” the home health care worker said. “I think a lot of people came across him on some of their worst days.”
The meeting happened nearly three years ago, during an episode of domestic violence at her home. She made an emergency call to police, and Gross arrived to help.
“He not only calmed three crying children, he was able to calm me down as well, and was able to safely apprehend the person who hurt us,” she wrote in a post shared on social media. “I was so lost, disheveled and embarrassed. He sat with me for as long as it took until I was able to collect my thoughts and go somewhere safe.”
Gramolini and Gross lived in the same small town, and she was afraid that everyone would know. That they would judge her and her family harshly.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, Gross made sure that she sought medical help and gave her the numbers for crisis lines and his own cell phone number, too. He talked to the district attorney and made sure she had their contact information, too.
“He was so kind. He made sure that I knew it was serious, that this was a pattern that needed to be broken,” she said in the interview. “He just went above and beyond. It made me feel that somebody cared, in a moment I felt really embarrassed. I felt like an idiot, but he didn’t make me feel that way.”
‘Every 15 Minutes’
It never seemed like Gross was just punching the clock when he went to work every day, Todd West, the former longtime principal of Deer Isle-Stonington High School, said.
West, who now is the principal of Bucksport Middle School, spent a lot of time with Gross in the spring of 2017. That’s when the deputy helped bring “Every 15 Minutes,” a program aimed at getting high students to understand the consequences of drinking or texting while driving, to the school.
“He went above and beyond,” West said. “It was clear that it wasn’t just an assignment for him. He cared deeply about it, and put in a tremendous amount of time.”
In a twist that seems eerie given the tragic events of Thursday morning, the emotionally charged two-day program featured a mock fatal accident. The victims of the mock accident had to spend the night away from their friends and families. West and Gross were among the chaperones for the night, and Gross used the time to shoot hoops with the students and get to know them better.
“Kids he had never met before, by the end of the night they were best friends,” West said. “I was always grateful. It’s easy to have youth be unsure of law enforcement, and wary, because sometimes either they or family members have had bad experiences.”
Gross wanted to make sure they had a different kind of encounter with him.
“He was just aware of how powerful it was to build a positive relationship from the start,” West said. “You could tell he wasn’t just doing it because he was working — it was part of what he believed in and cared about.”
And even on tougher occasions when he had to respond to the school because a student had broken a law, he was always respectful, the former principal said.
“He was looking for ways to help the students have a positive outcome in the long run,” he said. “The overall goal was to get you on the right path.”
A deputy who cared
Those efforts started early. Jeannie Hatch, the director of the Island Community Center in Stonington, recalled how Gross spent some time one summer with the children who attended “Camp Kooky,” the day camp program run by the community center.
The deputy ate lunch with the kids, talked to them, played a rousing game of dodgeball with them and even let them swarm all over his police truck, checking it out.
“A lot of our Camp Kooky kids are kids who might not come from the best circumstances,” Hatch said. “To have them see that police officers aren’t scary, that’s absolutely vital. He was great with them. He was really interested in their lives.”
Kathleen Billings, the town manager of Stonington, said that Gross was one of the deputies who spent a lot of time in her community over the years.
“He was always a really good deputy,” she said. “He always had a smile. Always happy-go-lucky. Had a good sense of humor. You never saw him with a chip on his shoulder or angry. He was never that way, never. He’ll be missed.”