OAKLAND — Jason Thomas was smoking a cigarette on his back deck on Belgrade Road shortly after 8 p.m. Wednesday when he heard a commotion next door. He then heard two gunshots, a man yelling and a woman pleading, “Please no, please help me.”

Thomas went into his house, locked the door and barricaded it with chairs. Then, like many of his neighbors, he called 911.

After Thomas secured his house and called police, he dialed the number of Michael Muzerolle, who lived on the first floor of the neighboring apartment house with his girlfriend, Amanda Bragg.

When Bragg picked up, he asked her if she was OK. “She said, ‘No, I can’t move. Please help,'” Thomas said. He told her that the police were on their way, but Bragg kept asking for help.

Then the line went dead.

Meanwhile, Bragg’s sister Amy DeRosby also had called 911. With her dying breaths, a wounded DeRosby gave police “very valuable information that helped first responders when they got there,” though authorities won’t say what that was.

DeRosby, along with Bragg and Muzerolle, were shot to death by Herman DeRico in the two-apartment house they all shared at 41 Belgrade Road, police said. DeRico then shot himself outside in the driveway.

Bragg and Muzerolle’s 3-year-old daughter, Arianna, was found unharmed in the first-floor apartment by the first police on the scene.

A day after the deadly shootings stunned the Oakland community, authorities said they still don’t know why DeRico gunned down the three adults who were found dead in the first-floor apartment rented by Bragg, 30, and Muzerolle, 29. DeRico, 42, and DeRosby, 28, were dating and lived upstairs.

“What state police and Oakland police are trying to determine is what sparked the violence here last night, and at this hour, we do not have answers,” Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said during a Thursday afternoon news conference in front of the scene. “We will work on getting that answer, but there’s no guarantees we’re going to come up with an answer. At this point, that answer is elusive.”

Wednesday’s shooting shook the small, tight-knit community and hit especially close to home for Michael Tracy, Oakland’s police chief. Muzerolle was his nephew, the only child of Lisa Hassam, his youngest sister. Tracy was the one who made the call to his sister’s Florida home Wednesday night to give her the tragic news.

“She took it really hard,” as any parent would, Tracy said in an interview in his office Thursday morning. “That’s the danger of working as a police officer in your own town. If a tragic event happens, it is more than likely that it will be someone you know.”

There were no warning signs that the shooting was going to happen, Tracy said. He didn’t know DeRico or DeRosby. Tracy said he ran into Muzerolle around town, but couldn’t remember the last time he saw him.

Scant information was available on DeRico, who McCausland said “is not from Maine,” though police didn’t know how long he had lived here. Police contacted his next of kin Wednesday night. His mother lives in California and his grandmother lives in Alabama.

Ron Pressey, who lives on Old Belgrade Road around the corner from where the shooting happened, said he often saw DeRico and DeRosby sitting outside with their dog and thought that DeRico allowed the dog to get too close to the sidewalk and bark at people, Pressey said.

“From what I was told, he came from New York to Portland to here,” he said. “Something in his past brought it up to this point.”

“Things happen, but this is very, very sad,” Pressey added. “Now you have a child that will be scarred for life.”

McCausland said Arrianna would be cared for by her grandmother, the mother of Bragg and DeRosby.

Thomas, the next-door neighbor who called the police Wednesday night, said he didn’t know DeRico well, but the two connected because they were fans of the Oakland Raiders football team. He heard occasional arguments at the next door apartment, but nothing serious.

“Obviously, as a neighbor you hear things,” he said.

A Maine criminal record check of DeRico shows no record. McCausland confirmed Thursday that DeRico does not have any criminal history in Maine, and as of Thursday investigators had not completed a nationwide criminal check, according to McCausland. Police were still tracing where DeRico obtained the 9 mm gun used in the shooting, he added.

According to court records, DeRico was fined $350 in Kennebec County courts in September for possessing up to 1 1/4 ounces of marijuana.

“There has been no interaction between him and Oakland police. About the only contact is that they would see him sitting on the steps as they drove by,” McCausland said.

‘A TERRIBLE CRIME’

Chris Perry, who owns a home next to the building where the shootings happened, said he was pulling into his driveway when he heard two gunshots.

“As soon as I put my car in park, I heard ‘bang, bang,'” Perry said. “I thought I hit my garage door.”

Perry got out of his car, and as he was unlocking his door, he saw DeRico walking around outside. He didn’t try to talk to him or make eye contact, Perry said.

“I thought, if they are just having an argument, I didn’t want to call the cops,” he said.

A few minutes after he went into his house, police showed up and told him to seek shelter in a back room. He could see officers with drawn guns and flashlights working their way toward the house next door.

About 20 minutes later, another officer came by to tell him to leave, Perry said. On his way out of Oakland, he could see emergency vehicles streaming past him on the road, headed toward the shooting scene.

He went to a friend’s house in Winslow but ended up spending the night in a hotel, he said. Perry lives in Orlando, Florida, but grew up in Waterville and goes to Oakland to take care of the house that used to be owned by his aunt.

When police arrived after the Waterville Regional Communications Center got numerous 911 calls shortly after 8 p.m., they found the bodies of Bragg, Muzerolle and DeRosby in the house, and DeRico’s outside in the driveway, with a pistol beside his body.

“It’s obviously a terrible crime,” Tracy, the Oakland police chief, said at the scene Wednesday night.

All four apparently died from gunshot wounds. The Office of the Maine Medical Examiner completed autopsies of DeRico and DeRosby on Thursday morning, according to McCausland. Both were killed by gunshot wounds, the likely cause of death of Bragg and Muzerolle, McCausland said Thursday afternoon.

The Oakland Police Department responded to the initial reports and called for assistance from the Maine State Police and a state police tactical team arrived at the scene, Lt. Troy Gardner, of the Maine State Police, said at a 3 a.m. news conference Thursday.

The apartment house at 41 Belgrade Road is painted brown with white trim and has a neatly kept yard with flower baskets outside. One apartment is upstairs and one is downstairs. Landlord Paul Seluke lives in a third apartment out back in a barnlike addition. The house is about a quarter-mile west of the Belgrade Road intersection with Church Street and Libby Hill Road.

Gardner said several people made 911 calls after the shooting. Police worked on the case throughout Wednesday night and were still at the scene late Thursday morning.

Police from at least six agencies converged on the scene after the initial report Wednesday night, including the Fairfield, Oakland, Waterville and Winslow police departments and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office.

Belgrade Road initially was blocked at the intersection of Church Street and Libby Hill Road, which is Route 23.

When the Maine State Police tactical team first entered the house to get Arianna, they found two bodies. The third body was found when the team re-entered the apartment later Wednesday night, McCausland said. It’s unclear how much 3-year-old Arrianna witnessed of the shooting, McCausland said.

“She was in the apartment at the time. What she saw, what she heard, I don’t have any particulars on that,” he said.

According to Oakland police logs, law enforcement had never been called to the house, and neighbors said they couldn’t remember any disturbances at the building.

Pressey, the Old Belgrade Road neighbor, said the house was quiet, and he couldn’t recall loud arguments or disturbances.

“They blended in with everyone else,” Pressey said. “Any time I went by there, everything seemed to be normal.”

RESIDENTS WATCH SCENE

By 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, several residents had gathered in the area, including some who said they lived on Belgrade Road and were being kept from returning to their homes by police.

Izzy and Renee Spencer had gone to the store and left their children at home with Renee Spencer’s brother. They returned around 8:30 p.m. and still were waiting to be allowed back down the street more than two hours later.

They said their children were safe and were in bed for the night. “Thank goodness,” Renee Spencer said. “I don’t know if they even know really that all this is happening.”

“You don’t expect something like this to happen in a small town,” Izzy Spencer said.

“It’s a nice quiet street,” added Renee Spencer. “The loudest thing we hear is cars.”

At least 15 police cruisers were at the scene shorty after 8 p.m. Police armed with rifles walked from the intersection with Church Street toward the house where the shooting took place.

Toby Cress, in a phone interview from his home at 94 Belgrade Road, which was in the area initially blocked off by police, said about an hour after the shooting that he could see the scene from his window,

“I can see all the cops all over the place,” he said. “I went outside and (the police) instantly told me to go back in the house. They said they couldn’t explain the details, just that it wasn’t safe to be out on the street.”

He said he and his family were safe, although they were frightened. “It’s kinda crazy. It’s close to home,” said Cress, 44.

Kevin Kerby and Brandy Coughlin, who live nearby on Runner Avenue, said they didn’t hear a lot of noise but saw police lights and heard a siren. They came outside to see what was going on.

Kerby said he has a friend who lives on Summer Street, which intersects the blocked-off area, but that the friend was OK and was in his house with the doors locked.

“All I know is we came outside and saw all the lights. I don’t know that much,” Kerby said.

“I haven’t heard nothing or seen nothing,” said David Demo, who was watching the scene from his home near the intersection. “All I saw was the lights.”

He said it is usually a quiet neighborhood.

In a statement Thursday morning, the Family Violence Project noted that many details of the incident were not known yet, but that the case makes clear “violence in the home … affects everyone, including the victim(s), family and all members of the community.”

There have been 17 homicides in Maine so far in 2015, including the shootings Wednesday, according to McCausland. He did not know how many of the homicides were related to domestic violence.

The shooting was the first homicide case in Oakland in more than a decade.

Of the 21 homicides in 2014, 14 were the result of domestic violence, according to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

“It is important to remember that abuse and violence, even lethal acts of violence, do occur in every neighborhood and in every community,” the Family Violence Project statement read. “While it is troubling to recognize, a quiet neighborhood in which everyone seems to know one another, is as likely a scenario for inexcusable violence and abuse as any other.”

The Family Violence Project encouraged people to use its confidential support line at 877-890-7788.

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