Maybe there should be a rule when it comes to high-profile suicides: Before we know exactly what happened and why, the less said the better.

This much appears certain as Maine reels from the death of the Rev. Robert Carlson: Early Sunday morning, the well-known pastor and founder of two Bangor-area service agencies parked his car on the towering Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Bucksport, climbed over the 4½-foot railing and plunged 150 feet to the river below.

A pillar of his community if ever there was one, Carlson left a large enough footprint in his 68 years to warrant the kind of outpouring from Maine’s political elite that traditionally signals to the rest of us this guy was important, he mattered, he will be missed.

“Bob always had a smile, a big handshake and a kind word. He was there for people when they needed him,” noted former Gov. John Baldacci, whose own family received comfort from Carlson when Baldacci’s brother Paul died in 2006.

Citing Carlson’s work as co-founder and president of Penobscot Community Health Care, Baldacci said in a prepared statement that the minister “has helped thousands of people to have a better life. His work has had a tremendous impact on the community.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe and her husband, former Gov. John R. McKernan Jr., called Carlson a “beloved friend and an extraordinary figure.”

“Bob was a ‘doer’ in every sense of the word who has left a lasting and positive impact that will reverberate for generations to come,” they said in their prepared statement.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree called Carlson “a man of boundless energy who cared deeply about those who were struggling.”

Rep. Mike Michaud, meanwhile, told this newspaper in an interview that Carlson was “a very giving person. He’s really going to be missed.”

Only Sen. Susan Collins, perhaps sensing that there was more to this news than met the eye, kept it simple.

“I am shocked and saddened,” Collins said in her brief statement, adding that her thoughts are with Carlson’s family “during this tremendously difficult time.”

In short, long before anyone could bring the fuzzy facts surrounding Carlson’s death into some kind of rational focus, he was enshrined as a man who could do no wrong.

Except maybe he did.

First came the confirmation from Maine State Police spokesman Steve McCausland that Carlson was the focus of a criminal investigation that began only last Thursday — prompted by a letter forwarded to police by the Boy Scouts of America’s Katahdin Area Council. The letter contained allegations of child sex abuse.

Then came a woman from Bowdoin and one of her relatives. Both told the Bangor Daily News that the woman’s brother “came clean to the family” two years ago about a sexual relationship he’d had with Carlson dating back to when the brother was 12.

The family — a single mother with six kids — lived at the time in Orrington, where Carlson was pastor of the East Orrington Congregational Church.

“It’s just hard when you hear all the people’s comments about what a big loss this is,” the woman told the newspaper. “Especially when you know different.”

Back to McCausland, who said Tuesday that state police phone lines, along with the investigation, remain open “because there could be information that members of the public want to share with us — and we’re here to listen.”

Might we interpret that as an overture to other potential victims?

“Correct,” replied McCausland.

So here Maine sits, caught between a memorial service for Carlson that undoubtedly will pack the Bangor Auditorium on Friday, and an allegation that yet another man of the cloth had a dark side.

A survey of Maine’s political leaders revealed no firm plans to attend Carlson’s service — or send a representative, for that matter.

Rather, when asked through their staffs if they care to amend or add to their previous statements, most tempered their initial rush to praise Carlson — standard operating procedure whenever a well-known Mainer passes — with a mix of bewilderment and caution.

Michaud, citing the “troubling” investigation, said “it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Pingree said her “thoughts are with the victim and his family and I hope they can finally find some peace.”

Collins, calling the allegations ” serious and disturbing,” said she feels “terrible for (Carlson’s) wife, Elaine.”

She added, “My heart goes out to anyone who might have been victimized and their families.”

Snowe said she was “stunned and saddened by … the investigation into very serious allegations, which are deeply disturbing. … My heart goes out to any and all victims of any such horrific crime.”

Baldacci said as close as he was to the Carlson family, “the victim and his family … have to be the first priority.”

To his credit, the former governor added, “The best way for the community to heal is to know the truth, good or bad.”

Which brings us back to what we already know — and what we still don’t.

McCausland said it’s too soon to say where all this is headed — or what investigative findings might be made public even if the possibility of criminal prosecution ended with Carlson’s suicide.

That should be a no-brainer: By now, nothing short of full disclosure will suffice.

Worship him or revile him, the Rev. Robert Carlson is no longer entitled to whatever secrets he took with him off that bridge Sunday morning.

They were not his alone to keep.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at: [email protected]