GARDINER — A former professor remembers Autumn Bryant, 44, who was killed Tuesday in a domestic violence murder-suicide, by her “big, huge smile.”

State police said she was killed by her estranged husband, Kenneth Bryant, 48, of Livermore Falls. After shooting her, he shot and killed himself.

Police responded to a complaint at 16 Fairview St. and found Kenneth Bryant dead in a pickup truck in the driveway and Autumn Bryant, 44, shot twice but alive, in the home’s garage. Autumn Bryant died of her wounds at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

A day after the shooting, which authorities also have linked to a house fire in Sidney earlier in the day, few additional details emerged about what happened and why. But a picture of Autumn emerged as someone who is remembered warmly and who loved dogs.

Barry Pearson, a former professor at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, from which Autumn Bryant graduated in 1997, said in an interview Wednesday that he could not recall her “without thinking of one big, huge smile.”

“She was always the gentlest of souls,” Pearson said. “She was universally somebody people were drawn to.”

The Bryants previously operated a small business selling dog treats under the name TriPom Chews. It is not clear when that business folded, but the business’s website displays a message saying the business was shut down around the time their marriage faltered. Autumn Bryant is listed as the registered agent of the corporation.

“TriPom Chews is no longer in business,” the message reads. “Working the long hours we have 7 days a week for 8 years has taken its toll. Our marriage is over and we’re shutting down the business.”

Pearson is mentioned as a mentor of Autumn Bryant, a theater major, in a story about TriPom Chews that was featured in the Winter 2011-2012 edition of the Millikin Quarterly. He said he always remembered her love of her dogs. Her business was named after her three Pomeranians: Xena, Roxy and Riche.

“I do remember her fondness for her dog,” said Pearson, who is now the provost and vice president for academic affairs at State University of New York at Purchase. “It was always endearing, as many things about Autumn were.

“(My role) was more telling her that it seemed perfect for her,” he added. “She had just gone out on her own and put all of her passion and talent together.”

Autumn Bryant reportedly was staying at a Gardiner home owned by her brother, Phil Gullifer III; she and her husband previously had lived in Livermore Falls, but they separated in November 2018. According to state Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland, divorce proceedings were underway. The Kennebec Journal was unable to find a record of divorce proceedings filed in Androscoggin County courts.

Meanwhile, the state fire marshal’s office said a fire that destroyed a home Tuesday morning at 74 Poppy Lane in Sidney was related to the Gardiner shooting.  The owner of that house, Lawrence  Gilman, is married to Terry Gilman, the mother of Autumn Bryant. Officials said the house on Poppy Lane was unoccupied at the time of the fire because the Gilmans live in Florida during the winter.

This photo, taken Wednesday, shows the fire ravaged house at 74 Poppy Lane in Sidney. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

McCausland said Wednesday that the fire was considered suspicious and remains under investigation, but he would not release any additional details.

Autopsies on the two bodies were scheduled to be done Wednesday, he said.

The gun used in the shootings was a handgun owned by Kenneth Bryant, McCausland said, adding that it is not known yet how many shots were fired. He was not aware of any restrictions on Kenneth Bryant’s gun use or ownership, nor any protection orders filed against him.

McCausland said there have been five homicides in five days and a total of eight in 2019. He said the uptick in homicides is “likely not a trend.”

Attempts by the Kennebec Journal on Wednesday to contact additional friends, relatives and neighbors of Autumn Bryant were unsuccessful.

Francine Garland Stark, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said nearly 75 percent of domestic violence homicides occur after one partner leaves — or expresses their intent to leave — a relationship. She added that family members can use hotlines and other resources if they suspect a loved one is in an abusive relationship, and all services are free and confidential.

“There’s no single effort that’s really going to end domestic violence homicide,” she said. “There are people in our state every day that are being terrorized by their domestic partner.”

Garland Stark said people also should remain vigilant if they believe a loved one will commit an act of domestic violence and urge them to seek the help they need before a situation escalates.

 

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

 

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