SKOWHEGAN — The turnout at Eugene Cole’s visitation service Sunday at the Skowhegan Armory — as well as the outpouring of community support since his death — shows just how well-loved the corporal was in the county in which he served.

Those were the words of Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster during a brief press conference outside the Armory before the visitation began.

“When we suffered our loss with Cpl. Cole, the whole community suffered. We’re extremely grateful for their support,” Lancaster said of the community’s response following the shooting death of Cole while on duty in Norridgewock late last month.

People came from around the state to pay their respects to the fallen officer Sunday. Among them were law enforcement officers, some of whom had served alongside Cole; family, friends and community members whose lives had been personally touched by Cole over the years; and strangers whose hearts had been broken by the tragedy.

Both Lancaster and Chief Deputy for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Department James Ross spoke about their personal grief in the wake of the death of their colleague and friend.

“This will haunt me for the rest of my life,” Lancaster said. “I lost someone on my watch and it’s a burden.”

Ross said that he misses Cole’s dry sense of humor, his work ethic and his institutional knowledge and deep ties to the community.

“He just knew everybody and everybody knew him,” Ross said. “If something happened they called Gene. I can’t even begin to tell you how many crimes he solved because somebody called him because they trusted him and they knew that his word was good.”

Cole epitomized good community policing, Lancaster added, saying Cole was “part of the fabric of Norridgewock.”

That was evident by the continuous procession of grievers making their way to the Armory Sunday.

Among them were Fred and Debbie Godin, accompanied by their son Robby, who said they didn’t know Cole personally but still felt the pain of his death in the community.

“Our hearts were breaking,” Debbie Godin said. “We just came to support the family.

Fred Godin, who with his wife donned blue-and-black stickers made to memorialize Cole, said he was blown away by the community coming together in the wake of Cole’s death. He said the couple brought food to Norridgewock as a way they could support the officers during the search for Cole’s suspected killer.

“I think the police were very touched by it,” he said.

Darrin McDougal and Jerry Washburn were among the attendees who were longtime friends with Cole and also shared in his passion for music.

“When we were kids we used to go watch them play,” McDougal said of Cole’s classic country band, Borderline Express, which has been a popular band in central Maine for decades.

McDougal said he was in awe of the way Cole played the guitar.

“No one played like him — and no one ever will,” he said. “I’ve seen guitar players in my day — I’ve seen so many — but I’ve never seen one like Eugene pick and play lead — that’s unheard of. He had his own style.”

Inside the armory, next to the casket, sat Cole’s Fender Telecaster — a touch that made McDougal emotional.

“That old faded Tele,” he said. “I remember seeing that when I was like a kid.”

McDougal, who has been playing the drums for 30 years, said Cole and his brother, Tom, would call other musicians to the stage to jam with the band. McDougal said he’s played with Borderline Express at least 50 times in the past 20 or 30 years.

“I’d play 10 or 15 songs with them,” he said. “If someone knew how to play, they’d have you get up there and do it.”

McDougal and Washburn now play in a band, which they said doesn’t have a name, together at mainly church events and benefits, which is what they said Borderline Express has been doing for years.

Beyond his musical talents, McDougal and Washburn described Cole as being genuine, kind and a law enforcement officer who sought to help the most vulnerable in the community, whether they be struggling with homelessness or addiction.

“He never put nobody down in the place that they were. That was the thing that was nice about him,” Washburn said. “He was someone who was going to lift you up one way or the other.”

“He was the real deal,” McDougal said. “He’s touched a lot of people’s lives; he’s certainly touched mine.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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