BRIDGTON — At first, Sarah Perry couldn’t put a name to one of the faces she recognized Wednesday night at the book signing for her recently released memoir.
But when she did, she stood up and hugged former Bridgton Police Officer Bernie King, one of the first officers on the scene of her mother’s horrific death 23 years ago.
Perry’s mother, Crystal Perry, was raped and stabbed 50 times at their Route 93 home while Sarah was in the next room.
Sarah Perry was back in Bridgton to promote “After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search” at a book signing event at the Magic Lantern. King attended hoping Perry would remember him and to tell her he was proud of her.
“I just give her so much credit,” King said. “What she’s gone through and what she’s accomplished – it’s huge.
King, also a former Bridgton selectman, said that writing the memoir “couldn’t have been easy” for Perry.
She was 12 in 1994 when her mother’s murder made headlines across the state. The crime went unsolved for years until Michael Hutchinson of Bridgton was convicted and given a life sentence in 2007.
While the story of her mother’s death had been covered in depth by news outlets, Perry decided that she needed to tell the story about her mother’s life – and her own search for answers after the murder.
“So many people in the state were aware of this story, maybe knew Crystal Perry as the name of a victim,” Perry, 35, said in an interview on Tuesday. “And I really appreciate this opportunity to bring her as a more fully formed person into people’s minds.”
Perry was unsure exactly when she had last been in Bridgton, but estimated it was about three years ago.
“I don’t go to Bridgton a whole lot anymore,” said Perry, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York.
“Being in Maine can be really fraught just because of what happened – the memories of that,” Perry said. “Making the book has been a really rewarding experience, but it’s been pretty challenging, too.”
“I think because Mom died so suddenly, and then I had to move a few times, that my idea of home is often very portable,” Perry continued. It’s sort of my community I make around me wherever I am. There’s current home, and then there’s ancient, original home – and Bridgton still feels that way.”
Her return to Bridgton Wednesday night saw her center stage at the theater.
Perry read an excerpt of her book, and then transitioned to a conversation with her sixth grade teacher from Stevens Brook Elementary, Elizabeth Shane.
Shane said she was “thrilled” that Perry asked her to be part of the event. She said that the book and the event “gives people answers – maybe peace, peace of mind.”
“And I know her mother would be proud,” Shane added.
After answering several questions from Shane, Perry opened the discussion to the audience. Then she signed audience members’ copies of her book, giving her the chance to reconnect with some familiar members of the community.
In addition to her emotional reunion with King, Perry was greeted by Toni Orlandella, the owner of ‘s Venezia Ristorante, where Perry ran for help on the rainy night of her mother’s murder.
“She was soaking wet, the poor thing,” Orlandella said.
She was impressed with the woman that Perry has become.
“She’s an awesome lady. I’ve got to give her so much credit,” Orlandella said.
Orlandella’s daughter, also named Toni, said Perry succeeded in her effort to shine light on who Crystal Perry was with the book.
“I didn’t know her mom. Now I do,” the younger Orlandella said.
Abbie Morrison, who has known Perry since they were children when their mothers worked together at the Sebago shoe shop, said she had been eagerly awaiting the book. and thought that it might provide closure for some. bring people closure.
“It was really nice to see everything come full circle,” said Morrison, who grew up in Harrison and now lives in Casco. “I think it brings a lot of closure to people.”
She said she and Perry have stay in touch over the years and that Perry has always shown resilience.
“She didn’t let it take her down,” Morrison said. “It says a lot about the way her mother raised her.”
A group of Perry’s extended family also came to the book signing bearing smiles and hugs. They politely declined to provide their names when asked outside of the auditorium, but one man did say that the process involved with the book, which delves into the Perry family’s history, has been “very hard.”
“I’m really touched that they came,” Sarah Perry said.
Pam Ward, co-owner of Bridgton Books, which sponsored the event, said there were nearly 100 attendees and it “was a healing event for a lot of people.”
For Perry, exceeded her expectations.
“It was even more moving than I anticipated,” Perry said after the event, noting that it was “100 percent positive.”
She now hopes to move on to other writing projects.
“Definitely this is the story I had to tell before I could tell any others,” she said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Author Sarah Perry hugs former Bridgton Police Officer Bernie King at a book-signing event for her memoir, “After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search.” King was one of the first officers on scene after Perry’s mother was murdered in 1994.