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Courts and Crime

Focus Shifts to Police Response in Aroostook County Killings, Kidnapping

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Jennifer Mitchell
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MPBN
Brittany Irish

BENEDICTA, Maine — One week ago, on July 17, Maine was transfixed as 35-year-old Anthony Lord evaded police with a hostage in tow, leaving a trail of destruction across three northern Maine towns in which two men were killed, six people were injured, a barn was burned to the ground and homes were riddled with bullets.

The focus has now turned to the catalyst for these events and the way authorities responded.

Twenty-one-year-old Brittany Irish describes July 14 as a "nightmare." She says Anthony Lord, a convicted sex offender and acquaintance for several years, had asked her if she would bring him photographs she'd taken at a memorial service for Lord's infant son.

Irish, who lives in Bangor, says she agreed to meet him in Old Town.

She says she got in his car to give him the memory card that contained the pictures. That's when Lord allegedly abducted her.

"He just took off in his car," Irish says. "And I was in the car. He wouldn't stop. He wouldn't turn around. I kept asking him every exit to turn around and he wouldn't. He just refused to. He kept driving."

Irish says that Lord took her to a remote cabin in Aroostook County and sexually assaulted her four times.

The next day, she says he released her and she sought help from the Bangor Police Department. Irish says the local police took copious notes and had her transported to the hospital.

"There was an advocate there, everything," she says. "They did a great job. It's just when it got into the hands of the police, that's where they slipped up."

She's referring to the Maine State Police detectives who were called in several hours later to interview her.

Irish says she was told that because the alleged assaults had occurred outside of Bangor, state police would have jurisdiction. She says she didn't feel they were really listening to her.

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Credit Jennifer Mitchell / MPBN
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MPBN
Benedicta's town sign.

"They didn't take it seriously enough," Irish says. "Especially given his criminal past."

"A lot of people are afraid they won't be believed," says Tamar Matthieu, a rape response specialist with social service agency Penquis.

Matthieu cannot comment specifically on the Brittany Irish case — or any other — but she says sexual assault survivors often report that they don't feel they've been heard or believed, by authorities or others, when telling their stories.

And Matthieu says the media can make things worse by uncovering details and asking questions that cast the victim in a questionable light.

For example, in this case, Irish was aware when she got into the car that Lord was a registered sex offender who had recently been in jail for domestic violence.

"Keep perpetrators accountable," Matthieu says. "And not ask why, what the victim did wrong. It's like saying they wore too short a skirt and deserved to be assaulted. And I would really hope that we've moved beyond that. Unfortunately we do find there's a lot of victim blaming and we really work hard on helping victims understand that it's not their fault."

Matthieu says she is unable to comment on how the state police may have behaved in the Irish case, but she says that in her experience, state police detectives are usually well trained and experienced in handling these kinds of situations.

Matthieu says she also understands that state police have to balance victim safety with protocols necessary to prosecute a case in the future. But when it comes to potentially dangerous sex offenders, or someone likely to pose a threat, she says she would like to know more about how the police decide what tactics to employ.

"How do they try to assess and find out what are the situations that are potentially more explosive, more dangerous, more deadly than other situations?" Matthieu says. "From my perspective as an advocate victim safety should be the most paramount."

And victim safety took a back seat in this case, according to Irish. She says that police had her text Lord repeatedly to try to draw out a confession, but then she says they decided to shake things up by calling Lord and telling him he'd been accused of sexual assault.

"By a voicemail," Irish says. "Not even by like talking to him in person, they did it over the phone."

Irish says that caused Lord, whose whereabouts were unknown, to fly into a rage and set her mother's barn in Benedicta on fire.

She says she and her boyfriend, Kyle Hewitt, went to her mother's house out of concern for her safety. Irish says they were so worried that Lord was responsible that they repeatedly asked for police protection.

But Irish says police told her they lacked the manpower to watch the house. That same night, police say Lord broke into the home, shot and killed Hewitt, wounded Irish's mother and abducted her.

Police have declined to comment on the situation, citing the ongoing homicide investigation.

Meanwhile, residents of Benedicta say they don't know what to make of the incident.

All of the residents with whom MPBN spoke said they were aware that Aroostook County is a vast area. and law enforcement officers can be few and far between.

"The state police are at least 40 miles away, so it's kind of hard for them to be everywhere at once, and I feel like they do the best they can," says Benedicta resident Jim Brawn. His views seem to reflect a consensus among residents: The sparse police presence in rural Maine is fine, until it isn't. "Something out of the blue like that, you know, you don't know what's going to happen. Never been anything like this happen."

Aroostook County has 18 troopers and 3 sergeants responsible for more than 6,800 square miles. County police based in Houlton are also available, but as another resident of Benedicta told us, a deputy "a mile away may as well be on the moon when you have a gun trained on you."

MPBN reached out to multiple state and local law enforcement agencies and criminal justice educators, as well as the Chiefs of Police Association; all declined to participate in this story.