Search for gunman puts Gorham police to test

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Law enforcement officers congregate at the corner of South and Preble streets late Monday morning following the report of an armed man.

Law enforcement officers congregate at the corner of South and Preble streets late Monday morning following the report of an armed man.

GORHAM — A police search for a man reportedly wearing combat gear and toting a rifle on South Street Monday locked down three schools, the library and town hall and shut down a section of Gorham Village.

A search for about two hours included officers from multiple law enforcement agencies. But, the intense manhunt didn’t turn up a suspect.

“The likelihood is there was no man with a gun,” Police Chief Daniel Jones said Monday afternoon. “We have to take all these threats seriously.”

Jones does not believe the one witness had malicious intent. The incident turned out to be a real-life drill with opportunity for police to practice their skills. “Everything went as planned,” Jones said Tuesday.

Following Monday’s incident, Gorham Police Department received numerous Facebook praises. Those postings included “Thank you Gorham PD and other branches for their efforts today in keeping our kids and community safe. We appreciate all you did today!” and “Great job today Gorham PD, Gorham Schools and all other agencies involved. The communication and safety precautions were well executed.”

Agencies assisting Gorham Monday included police from Westbrook and Windham, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department, and even the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

The turnout of police and number of cruisers caused a stir in the village. “It’s quite a show,” Carson Lynch, owner of The Gorham Grind coffee house, said by telephone while watching from his window.

Jones said a caller about 10 a.m. reported seeing a man dressed in camouflage “ghillie” gear, a suit decked with leaves, and armed with a rifle near an apartment building on South Street.

A Facebook posting asked about definition of a ghillie suit. The police reply said, “Camouflage suit that a sniper would wear.”

Police focused their search Monday in the area of South Street between the cemetery and the Baxter Memorial Library, Jones said. South Street was shut down between Main and Lincoln streets.

Jones said residents in the area were notified of the situation by a reverse 911 call and police went “door-to-door.”

Jones said police with permission of residents checked three dwellings, sheds and backyards without locating a suspect.

Three schools were locked down. They were the middle school on Weeks Road; high school, Morrill Avenue; and Village Elementary School, Robie Street. Superintendent Heather Perry called it a soft lockdown and said parents were notified.

“A soft lockdown is when we make sure all exterior doors are locked, and no students or adults are allowed outside of the facility,” School Board member Suzanne Phillips said.

At 12:19 p.m. the lockdowns were lifted, Perry said. “We are thankful for the excellent communication provided to us by the Gorham Police Department that has allowed us to deal promptly  with this situation,” she said.

Besides the school buildings, Baxter Memorial Library, 71 South St., was also locked down, as were town offices in the Gorham Municipal Center, 75 South St.

Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre said his fire-police blocked several streets and a rescue unit was at the scene on stand-by. Lefebvre’s official vehicle was used as the emergency command center for the operation.

Police patrols through the area continued Monday afternoon.

Jones said police received a report late Monday night of a man in a green suit on Brackett Road. But, an officer dispatched to the area found the sighting to be a statue.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com

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