Sometimes we newspaper reporters cover stories that stay with us, long after we lay down the pen.

Such is the case with a piece I wrote about the person found dead Feb. 26 in a school bus parked at Waterville Junior High School, leading to the cancellation of school for the day.

An autopsy revealed the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and police identified the deceased as Anthony Engelhardt, 24, of Naples. I wrote a follow-up story on the identity and reported that Engelhardt had graduated from an adult education program with high praise from officials there. We also learned Engelhardt’s mother had died in 2020.

After the story was published I received emails from several friends who said we needed to report that Engelhardt was transgender and chose to be called “River.”

I responded to the emails, thanked the writers for reaching out and explained that there was no way for me to have known River was trans. I asked if they were willing to talk to me about River, who had died alone in the school bus after leaving their car about 3 miles away on Interstate 95. In some ways, we Waterville residents also were grieving, not knowing why a young person had chosen to end their life — and why here. Waterville police could not provide answers. I checked with Maine State Police and was told the white Mustang sedan had been northbound on Interstate 95 and was found parked at mile-marker 126 in Waterville. The car was ticketed as disabled because it was spotted with no driver. Attempts to contact the owner were unsuccessful so it was towed away, according to police.

I searched online looking for friends and relatives, hoping they might help me draw a picture of River and write about their life. Some people responded and some didn’t. Most asked not to be identified by name.


River Contributed photo

They spoke of River as a bright, introspective person who had long struggled with mental health issues, loneliness and grief, and had for a time lived in their car. One woman who was a close friend to River said they would have deep conversations about life and the challenges they faced. River had been very close to their mother and her death had a big impact, the friend said.

“River was pretty reserved, didn’t really have a whole lot of people that they hung out with or really get close to,” said the friend, who asked not to be identified. “But if you did have a chance to get close to River, River was hilarious and smart and incredibly generous in every aspect.”

River’s mental health struggles were apparent (the friend said River had schizophrenia), though finding adequate mental health care was a struggle, she said.

“I think, even with facing all those difficult things and having a general sense of feeling lost and trying to navigate life, River really, really cared deeply for other people to the point of putting anybody before themselves,” she said. “River definitely helped make people feel happy and comfortable and tried to talk a lot of other people down from their own depression or suicidal thoughts.”

Until about a year ago, River, then known as “Anthony,” worked in a large grocery store. An employee there recalled the day Anthony “came out” as trans and asked to be called “River.” Co-workers were supportive and made them a new name tag, after which River started to come out of their shell and seemed happier, she said. When store employees learned of River’s death, they were sad and heartbroken, said the worker, adding that everyone cared about River.

“River was a troubled person, but a gentle one at heart,” the worker said.


River, who most recently lived in a rented room and worked for a large home improvement store, liked to hike, draw and write poetry, according to the close friend. River had been longing to take a road trip, recently purchased the Mustang car and was very excited about that, the friend said.

On Feb. 17 — three days before Waterville police had the car towed from I-95 in Waterville — River posted a Facebook photo of the Mustang parked by the ocean.

“Made it out to Acadia for the first time,” River wrote in the post.

By Monday, March 4, River’s most recent posts, many documenting their life struggles, appeared to have been taken down.

One of River’s friends on Feb. 28 posted a reference to River on social media, writing “RIP.” “May you be at peace at last, you had a good soul,” the friend wrote. “I’m sorry the world was cruel to you. This is sad news, you were always nice to me.”

River’s close friend said she and River would talk for hours on the phone and by video chat. River once gave her a driving tour of the Casco area, where River had grown up, showing the four houses River had lived in, she said.


“River actually grew up right next to the Crooked River in Casco. One of the last houses that River lived in with their Mom before she passed was right across from the river and that is the place River would go to to clear their mind. You could sit on the stone wall and see the house and both directions of the river.”

She said it is possible that, with the river being a place of solace, River chose to be called by that name. She recalled that River also shared with her the contents of their treasure chest.

“There were countless photos of River’s grandparents and Mom and little notes from their grandpa,” she recalled. “There was also a card for suicide prevention, with a phone number.”

She and River’s frequent contact recently had fizzled and she regrets she didn’t make more of an effort to keep the connection going.

“Maybe I didn’t do enough or know how to offer certain kinds of support,” the friend said.

I reached out to River’s Aunt, Jessica Thompson, to ask if the family wanted to comment for this column, and she offered me the following:


“We’re all deeply saddened by the loss of Anthony/River. They were a very special person and we’ll miss them very much. But we’re grieving and ask for privacy at this time.”

River’s obituary also expresses the family’s sentiments, according to Thompson, who said she wrote most of it:

“Their smile and laugh was so contagious, it really would light up a room. River was someone that would go out of their way to show kindness to others, smile at a stranger, and show compassion and empathy to those in need. The world is truly at a loss without them and will be missed by all that knew them.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 35 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She is the author of the book, “Comfort is an Old Barn,” a collection of her curated columns, published in 2023 by Islandport Press. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

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