BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A grief-stricken son, fellow law enforcement officers, musicians from his old band and a flyover paid tribute Monday to a sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty.
An estimated 3,600 people including hundreds of law enforcement officers saluted Somerset County Cpl. Eugene Cole with one of the largest funerals in the state’s history. The service for the Army veteran was followed by a flyover, taps and a rifle salute.
Cole, 61, became the first police officer to be killed in the line of duty in nearly 30 years in Maine early on April 25 after an encounter on a darkened roadside in Norridgewock.
His son, Cpl. David Cole, also a deputy, said strong community support has helped the family through the time since he had to tell his mother about the killing.
“I watched the strongest woman I know break. I broke with her. The hours went by and the grief turned into reality. We watched the community, civilians and law enforcement, come together to honor my father,” he told the gathering at the Cross Insurance Center.
There was a massive law enforcement presence at the funeral: New York City motorcycle officers led a procession with the hearse from Skowhegan to Bangor; a bagpipe procession featured officers from multiple agencies; hundreds of officers lined the road outside the arena.
People waved flags from overpasses and alongside the route. Flapping gently in the breeze was a giant American flag hanging from a fire department ladder truck.
Cole was killed in a late-night encounter in Norridgewock with a man who was worried about going to prison for a gun charge in Massachusetts.
Court documents indicate 29-year-old John Williams confessed to a friend early on April 25 that he’d shot Cole before stealing his pickup truck and taking cigarettes from a convenience store.
On Monday, Cole’s Somerset County Sheriff’s Department pickup truck was parked in front of the stage, a somber reminder of the crime. In the audience, many people wore blue flowers pinned to their collars.
Friendly and personable, Cole was a talented musician and former TV shop owner who answered a calling in middle age to become a law enforcement officer. His old band played a song in tribute on Monday.
Cole was known for the way he treated people, and for his ability to defuse a tense situation. He even won praise by some of the people he’d arrested.
The Rev. Kevin Brooks, chaplain at the sheriff’s department, described an officer nicknamed “gramps” who enjoyed teasing colleagues, served as a mentor to younger deputies and “treated everyone he met with respect.”
Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster quoted a Bible verse that included the phrase “blessed are the peace makers” to make a point about the deputy’s manner. Some in the audience wore T-shirts quoting the same phrase.
“Gene epitomized community policing. He always had people talking to him on patrol and calling him at home. People trusted Gene,” he said.
Scarborough patrolman Mike Thurlow called Cole’s death a loss for everybody, highlighting the dangers police officers face. “It really makes you think: Is this night going to be the night I won’t make it home?”
His son David received warm applause Monday when he concluded his remarks by saying, “Rest easy, Dad. We’ve got the watch from here.”
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this report.