The man who shot and killed himself Wednesday in a Benton school parking lot had abducted a teenage girl in Waterville earlier in the day, held her at gunpoint and raped her, police said.

Anthony Harding, 41, of Dunbar Court, Waterville, had planned the abduction and rape, as the storage unit he took her to had a wall with a door built inside leading to a makeshift room with food to last three or four days and some furniture, according to Waterville Police Chief Joseph Massey.

Harding reportedly told the girl after abducting her that he had been contemplating suicide for a while, but didn’t think he had the courage to do it. Harding said if he committed such a heinous crime, he then would be able to kill himself, Massey said Thursday.

Massey said Harding and the girl knew each other.

“It’s very disturbing that he abducted a girl and threatened her with a gun and took her to a place that he prepared,” Massey said. “He readied this unit for that particular purpose.”

The fact that Harding followed through on the threat to take his own life adds another layer of trauma to an already devastating situation, said Donna Strickler, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center. Strickler said she could not comment on the specifics of the case, but that in any sexual assault the trauma can be made worse if the perpetrator is someone the victim knows and if the former threatens violence.

“It’s really important for people to hear and understand that it’s not this person’s fault that he made the decision (to take his own life). It’s hard even to imagine the feelings going through the mind of someone with that experience,” she said.

Harding worked at T-Mobile in Oakland and operated AH Custom Printing in Waterville, according to his Facebook page. Calls to both places were not returned Thursday.

He was a 1992 graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield, which is in the same school administrative district as Benton Elementary School, SAD 49. Superintendent Dean Baker said Thursday that he could not confirm whether Harding had attended the Benton school as a child, although his Facebook page says he grew up in Benton. The page also indicates that Harding was engaged. A statement from the Kennebec County sheriff said Harding was born on Dec. 7.

The Morning Sentinel could not determine Thursday whether Harding had a criminal record. Massey said Waterville police have had contacts with Harding since 2003 for incidents such as car accidents, but Harding was apparently never previously involved in any serious incidents, according to the police chief.

Harding, who was not listed on the Maine sex offender registry, was arrested in 2008 in Waterville on a warrant, but published records do not include any details of that case.

Massey said police got a call Wednesday afternoon from a woman who said she was taking a girl to the emergency room because the girl told her she had been raped. Detective Sgt. Bill Bonney and Detective Duane Cloutier, of Waterville police, went to the hospital and talked to the girl, who told the officers Harding had abducted her from a home in Waterville and taken her to a storage unit, where he brandished the handgun. Harding told the girl he was going to rape her and if she told her mother or police, he would kill her, Massey said.

“He left her and she waited several minutes after he left, and she was able to leave the unit and call for help,” Massey said. “People came to her aid and took her to the hospital.”

Within 20 minutes of the rape investigation starting, police got a report that Harding had shot himself in his vehicle at Benton Elementary School, Massey said. He said the storage unit where the assault took place was about 10 by 20 feet in size. Harding had built a wall about halfway into the unit from the large entrance and there was a door in the wall, Massey said.

“He had a TV in there. I believe he had small chairs — an assortment of furniture,” Massey said. “We don’t believe he was living there — that he had built it with this (assault) in mind.”

Massey said police have no idea why Harding chose the Benton Elementary School parking lot as a place to commit suicide. “We think it was random,” he said.

Thursday on Harding’s Facebook page, a friend posted a class photo from the 1983-1984 school year that indicated Harding was a fourth-grader at the school that year.

Attempts to contact Harding’s family members Thursday were unsuccessful.

On Wednesday afternoon, school administrators saw an unfamiliar car in the parking lot and approached it, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said. The administrators said it appeared that the man inside it was under the influence of an unknown substance, so they called Fairfield Rescue. When the rescue crew arrived, they began questioning the man, who suddenly retrieved a .38-caliber handgun from inside the car and fatally shot himself, Liberty said. The sheriff’s department was called to the school shortly after 2 p.m. and the building was locked down briefly.

Baker said elementary school students and staff members followed safety plans during a lockdown Wednesday and that classes resumed Thursday.

Massey said that before responding to the call from the woman who said she was taking the girl to the hospital, someone around noon called 911 and then hung up — and that call had come from the area where the storage unit is located. Massey noted that police always respond to all 911 calls and reports of missing persons, and this incident is an example of why that’s important.

“We responded to the storage unit or in the area of the storage unit, having no idea if it was associated with that storage unit,” Massey said. “There are multiple storage units in that complex. We did due diligence and we checked that complete area and businesses in that area. … No one had any idea of anyone making a 911 call, so we could not confirm who made that 911 call and for what reason.”

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.


Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17