On Thursday, Sen. Angus King assured us the violent tragedy in Lewiston was an aberration, the work of a lone, troubled individual.
“This is not who we are,” King said, describing Mainers to the nation.
It was a blanket statement, meant to comfort and reassure. But was it true? That’s something we’re going to have to wrestle with in the weeks and months ahead.
In the meantime, I witnessed three acts of kindness on Thursday while covering the tragic aftermath and manhunt mayhem. Mainers may be capable of unthinkable violence but I saw, firsthand, how they also have the capacity for tolerance and compassion.
Around midday, I was standing, cameras in hand, at a police roadblock on Route 196 in Lisbon. I was making pictures of a young officer while he stopped cars. Instead of yelling at them to go back, he walked up to each vehicle with a smile, though he carried a large semi automatic rifle.
“Where are you trying to get to?” he asked the drivers.
The officer made the same inquiry as a large Dodge pickup approached. The driver, an older gent with a gray beard, said he wasn’t trying to get anywhere.
“We just wanted to make sure you had something to eat,” the man said, holding up a white plastic shopping bag.
The officer said he was all set.
“Are you sure, there’s some snack crackers in there — and some nice, cold Moxie,” the man said.
The officer acquiesced and said thank you, breaking into a genuine smile.
Later in the day, I was called to the scene on the Meadow Road in Bowdoin where police were serving a search warrant. Dozens of local, national and international media personnel had set up shop in someone’s paved driveway. It had a decent view of what the police were doing.
Among the crowd, I saw an elderly woman standing behind the news folk, looking a little dazed. I approached her and asked if we were in her driveway. She nodded her head. I asked if anyone had checked with her first.
“The first one did,” she said.
My eyes widened.
“It’s OK,” she said in a resigned, Maine accent, “I know people want to know what’s going on. I do too. I just hope everyone takes all their things when they leave.”
Later, she pushed her husband out in his wheelchair and he spoke to the press. He expressed his compassion for the fugitive’s father, whom he knew.
“I have a son, too,” he said.
When the police left the scene, a few hours later, the media started to melt away. Their cars, trucks and news vans lined both sides of the narrow country road.
One large van, with an NBC logo and New York plates, got stuck in a grassy ditch when the driver tried to turn it around. It looked doomed.
But before long, a flatbed truck From Dick’s Towing in Richmond inched its way up the road, just squeezing in between the parallel lines of vehicles. The tow truck driver got to work fast with a hydraulic winch. He had the van out of the ditch in about two minutes.
The van man then approached with his wallet open.
“How much do I owe you,” he asked.
“It’s OK. You don’t owe me nothing,” the tow truck driver said.
Then, he climbed back into the tow truck and its reverse beeper started. It then receded backward, slowly, into the night.
The New York van driver just stood there, mouth agape.
Sen. King may not have it totally right, but he’s not all wrong, either, because this is who we are.