NORRIDGEWOCK — Eugene, or “Gene,” Cole was a well-known and respected Somerset County Sheriff’s Office corporal who forged relationships with the public and other law enforcement agencies alike, those who knew him said Wednesday.

Cole, 62, was a 13-year veteran of the sheriff’s office when he was killed early Wednesday in Norridgewock. His death marks the first time since March 1989 when an officer has been shot and killed in Maine, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety.

“He was very well known and well respected in the Somerset County area,” said Dan Summers, a former detective and deputy chief at the Skowhegan Police Department, who worked alongside Cole during his time in Somerset County. “He had great relationships with all law enforcement, including the district attorney’s office, state police and others around the state. He had a great relationship with the public and was easy to talk to.”

Cole began working at the sheriff’s office in 2004 after running his own electronics business for years. He followed his son, David Cole, who was the first in the family to enter into law enforcement after accepting a job in corrections in 2002 at the Kennebec County jail.

The father and son worked together for years at the sheriff’s office, where David Cole is a deputy. They also followed each other in graduating from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, with Eugene Cole graduating in May 2006 and his son in May 2007.

“Things were going south and my kids were all growing up, and before I hit 50 I wanted to make a career change,” Cole told the Morning Sentinel in 2007, not long after both he and his son started working at the sheriff’s office.

David Cole did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.

Several cars were parked outside Eugene Cole’s home in Norridgewock, but a woman who greeted a reporter and photographer declined to comment.

Cole and his wife, Sheryl, raised four children together in Norridgewock. He told the newspaper in 2007 he encouraged his son to join the department.

“We’re professional when we’re working together,” he said. “We’re smart on the job. He’s a fine example of a deputy.”

Cole’s work took him from the southern part of Somerset County in Norridgewock and Skowhegan all the way up to Jackman, near the Canadian border.

Not long after he and his son started at the sheriff’s office, they worked together on a big case in Bingham, where a person had committed an armed robbery of a pharmacy.

Eugene Cole tracked the man down a couple of days later.

“He worked on a number of burglary and theft cases,” said Summers, who is chief of police in Lincoln. “I know he had assisted our detective here in Lincoln on a few cases down in Somerset County. We all work together wherever the case brings us, so I’m sure other law enforcement professionals also worked closely with him.”

Cole was shot and killed between 1 and 2 a.m. Wednesday. Police continued to search later in the day for John Williams, the suspect believed to have killed Cole before taking his cruiser, robbing a nearby Cumberland Farms and fleeing the area. The cruiser later was found abandoned on Martin Stream Road in Norridgewock.

“I knew Corporal Cole and really liked him,” Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said in an email. “He would always ask how I was doing and he always left me smiling. He genuinely cared for people and loved his community and put that passion into everything he did. I am personally devastated.”

Norridgewock Town Manager Richard LaBelle put out a news release Wednesday calling Cole’s death a “senseless killing” and expressing the town’s condolences to his family and the sheriff’s office.

“As a resident, Cole was one of our own,” LaBelle wrote. “He kept a watchful and considerate eye on our town. Whether at the ballfields checking in, at Oosoola Park for riverside events or patrolling Main Street for safety and security, Corporal Cole was one of the best.”

Scott Bishop, 31, whose uncle lives near Williams’ last known address in Madison and was at a police scene there, said his mother was married to Eugene Cole’s brother and Cole played in a local band called Borderline Express.

He said he was a good musician and a good guy.

“He was into music even before he was a sheriff’s deputy — one of the best,” Bishop said. “He was a hell of a man. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

As a light rain fell Wednesday afternoon, rows of police cars remained parked near the site where Cole’s body appeared to have been found. Traffic crawled through the center of town as firefighters stopped passing cars to check for signs of Williams.

Across the street from the trailer where Cole lived on Waterville Road, his neighbor Michele Danforth said she was shocked to hear of his death.

“He was a really good man,” she said. “I don’t know much about him, but I was pretty shaken up when I heard. He was always the first one (to respond) when something would happen.”

A few houses down, Michael Hunter met Cole for the first time a few days ago. He said Cole was one of the first responders who came to his house when his partner had a heart attack and passed away at age 40.

“He made it a little easier for me,” Hunter said. “It was a horrible, impossible situation and he comforted me. He responded and it was amazing.”

Morning Sentinel reporter Doug Harlow contributed to this report.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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Twitter: @rachel_ohm