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Nationwide Manhunt Underway For Suspect In Fatal Shooting Of Somerset County Sheriff's Deputy

The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service have joined state and local law enforcement in the intense search for the suspect in the fatal shooting of Somerset County Sheriff's Deputy Eugene Cole early Wednesday morning. Police have not disclosed the circumstances that led to Cole's death. His body was recovered from a house in Norridgewock where fellow officers lined up to pay their respects. The man they say is responsible is considered armed and dangerous.

Credit Steve McCausland
John Williams who is suspected of shooting and killing Cpl. Eugene Cole. This photo is from his March 22 arrest. Williams is described as blue eyed, about 5-foot-6 and 120 pounds

The suspect in Cpl. Cole's killing has been identified as John Williams. He is 29 years old, lives in Madison, and was due to appear in a Massachusetts court Wednesday morning for several firearms charges. He did not show up.

At a news conference, Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster says Williams shot Cole around 1:45 a.m.

“What we know is right now is that the suspect involved in the shooting stole Cpl. Cole's fully-marked cruiser, drove to the Cumberland Farms in Norridgewock and committed a theft,” Lancaster says . “The suspect then fled Cumerland Farms, driving Cpl. Cole's fully-marked cruiser."

That cruiser was later found abandoned, several hours later, on Martin Stream Road in Norridgewock, and police have spent much of the day searching the woods nearby. They also set up a stake-out at Williams' house in Madison where they gathered evidence.

Lt. Colonel John Cote of the Maine State Police says Williams is considered armed and dangerous. He was arrested last month for carrying a firearm without a license, possession of a large-capacity magazine and other offenses. He's described as 5 feet, 6 inches and 120 pounds with brown hair and a mustache and beard.

Credit Steve McCausland
Photos taken from the Deputy’s cruiser at the Norridgewock Cumberland Farms convenience store, following the shooting

"If people encounter him, they should not approach him, they should call 911,” Cote says. “And, but, just be aware of their surroundings and have a broader, situational awareness because he does continue to pose a risk."

Friends and colleagues describe 62-year-old Eugene Cole as someone who loved his family, helping other people and playing music. Sheriff Lancaster said he'd worked for the sheriff's department, where his son also works, for more than a decade.

"We have lost an outstanding deputy today, one who has served with great distinction for the last 13 years," says Lancaster.

Scott Bishop of Madison is a longtime friend who says Cole would give up the shirt off his back for anyone.

"He never tried to use excessive force with anyone,” says Bishop. “It's unfortunate that that ultimately cost him his life. He was a real good man."

In an interview with Maine Public Radio last year, Cole spoke about how he helped to de-escalate a potentially violent standoff at the same Cumberland Farms that Williams robbed in Norridgewock. In that event in late 2016, Cole told reporter Fred Bever that he took advantage of a moment when state police negotiators convinced an armed man in the store's parking lot to put down his gun. Keeping low, Cole snatched the gun from the hood of a truck where the suspect had placed it and then shot the man with his taser, ending the standoff.

Credit Kevin Bennett / For Maine Public
For Maine Public
Law enforcement personnel leave to search for suspect John Williams after the body of Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Cpl. Eugene Cole was removed from 16 Mercer St. in Norridgewock on Wednesday.

Cole also said that police in dangerous situations are always aware that their own lives may be at risk.

"When we go to work, we put on a bullet-proof vest and a side-arm. Why would you put a bullet proof vest on? This is a profession that we've chosen and we know the risk when we go out. So, like I said, we all want to go home at night."

Cole is the first Maine law enforcement officer to be killed in the line of duty since 2011 and the first to be shot and killed since 1989. Condolences are being shared widely across social media, and Gov. Paul LePage has ordered flags to fly at half-staff as a sign of respect for the service and sacrifice of Corporal Cole.

Maine Public reporters Willis Arnold, Irwin Gratz, Fred Bever and Susan Sharon, and freelancer Kevin Bennett, contributed to this report.

This story will be updated as details become known.