SCARBOROUGH — A Scarborough man was killed in a “random” attack Sunday morning by an unknown assailant in the front yard of his home on Beech Ridge Road, Maine State Police said.

James Pearson, 82, a former teacher and well-known local Christmas tree farmer, was transported to Maine Medical Center in Portland after the attack, which occurred about 8:15 a.m. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Jim Pearson of Beech Ridge Farm in Scarborough pauses while driving his tractor on Nov. 30, 1999. Staff file photo

In a press conference Sunday afternoon, state police Lt. Mark Holmquist declined to provide details of the attack but said Pearson did not know the assailant.

He said Pearson’s wife, Nancy, was home during the attack and her husband was still alive as she tried to render him aid. She reached out to nearby family members, who called 911.

Holmquist wouldn’t say whether Pearson was able to describe the attacker before he died.

Scarborough police blocked off the entrance to Beech Ridge Road on Sunday morning and early afternoon as authorities investigated at the crime scene.

“Residents are being asked by police to maintain awareness of their surroundings and to report any unusual activities, as police continue to investigate the death,” state police spokesman Steve McCausland said in a news release Sunday afternoon.

 

The location of the attack, 193 Beech Ridge Road, shares an address with Beech Ridge Farm, which sells Christmas trees and rents out its barn for events. But the business’s Facebook page says it had sold out of Christmas trees and was closed as of Dec. 1.

Police said Sunday that Pearson, who went by Jim, was the owner and that his family had run the business for many years.

Beech Ridge Farm’s website says Nancy and Jim Pearson founded the business in 1969. The couple moved into the farmhouse after making significant renovations and turned it into a working business.

During that time, Jim worked for Gorham High School teaching industrial arts, graphic arts and drafting. Nancy opened the original store, which sold animal feed.

Beginning in 1986, the Pearsons planted Christmas trees and sold them each holiday season.

“Today the family still owns and runs the farm as a Christmas tree farm and enjoys the yearlong, arduous process of helping God grow you a perfect tree,” the website says.

“He was one of our founding fathers,” Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton said Sunday, describing Pearson’s stature in the town.

Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton, right, stands by as Lt. Mark Holmquist of the Maine State Police briefs reporters Sunday afternoon about the fatal attack on James Pearson, 82, outside his home on Beech Ridge Road. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Moulton, who knew Pearson for years, said he was a good neighbor. Tall and outspoken, he made a strong impression on those around him.

Decades back, Pearson also served as a reserve police officer, helping to coordinate horse races at Scarborough Downs, the police chief said.

His death left Scarborough shaken on Sunday.

Jim Flaherty, a friend and neighbor, said Pearson was beloved by his community.

“I don’t know anybody who didn’t like Jim,” Flaherty said, taking a break from sawing Christmas trees at his nearby business, Flaherty’s Family Farm.

Choking up, Flaherty said: “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe anyone would want to hurt him.”

Becky Delaware, who knew Pearson through her work with the Scarborough Historical Society, said he represented the spirit of “old Maine” – a willingness to help anyone who needed it.

“He worked hard to make a go of what he had, but he wouldn’t hesitate to lend somebody else a hand,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday. “And that’s part of why this thing is so weird and horrible.”

Pearson’s family members, many of whom live in the same neighborhood, could not be reached for comment Sunday afternoon.

Police on Sunday acknowledged both the loss of a respected community member and the shock of an apparently random act of violence.

“To have a random act like this is – I’m not going to say unheard of, but it’s rare,” Holmquist said at the press conference at the Scarborough police station.

“It is upsetting,” Chief Moulton said, “and … we understand how people are feeling at this point.”

Although police are urging “vigilance” in the community, Moulton said, “I don’t think there is a reason for people to panic at this point.”

Later Sunday, local and state police were still canvassing the neighborhood for leads and examining the scene itself, and officers will conduct extra patrols to make sure residents are safe. Police said the state medical examiner will likely conduct an autopsy on Monday morning.

Moulton also promised results.

“Our two agencies are working hand in hand on this,” he said, speaking of Scarborough and state police, “and we do feel very strongly that we will being this to a conclusion at some point along the way.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Maine State Police at 624-7076 or Scarborough Police at 883-6361.

The property on Beech Ridge Road in Scarborough where James Pearson, 82, was slain on Sunday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

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