Tragedy had forced Matthew Blanchard to re-evaluate his life.
The death of his longtime girlfriend in a car crash last month had left him feeling guilty and alone. He wanted to reconnect with his children, whom he had largely ignored over the past few years.
“He was practically crying, ‘They’re all I have left,’ ” said Nicole Haycock, the mother of two of his children, Ryan Matthew, 9, and Brianna Lynn, 6. Blanchard had plans to see them Thursday.
Before dawn Wednesday, he was shot in the chest by an attacker on India Street in Portland and pronounced dead at Maine Medical Center. He was 24.
Three men, all of them his relatives, were with him when he was shot.
Joshua Hersom, 24, and John Howard, 20, were shot and injured, and had surgery at the hospital. A third relative, whom police did not identify, was unharmed.
Police continued to seek the public’s help Thursday. Security video shows that many pedestrians and cars were in the area around 1 a.m. Wednesday, the time of the shooting, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference Thursday.
Sauschuck asked that anyone who saw Blanchard — who had a cast on one leg because of the crash and was pushing himself along on a bicycle — and the others before the shooting to contact police.
The group had walked down Washington Avenue, onto Baxter Boulevard and over to Franklin Street, then went up Fox Street through the Kennedy Park housing development, over to Congress Street and onto India Street.
They interacted with people along the way. Sauschuck said the encounters were not described as hostile, but police want to talk to as many witnesses as possible so they can determine whether any earlier interaction led to the shootings.
“Maybe they were crossing the street and somebody took offense at that,” he said.
Logan Ridge-Howard was one of Blanchard’s best friends from the time they lived across the street from each other in Gray, when they were in seventh grade.
“He was a bit of a troublemaker in school, but who isn’t sometimes?” he said. “We used to spend countless weekends going down to Happy Wheels to do the night skating thing, going four-wheeling, out on the lakes, going to the beach, fishing, camping.
“He got in some trouble here and there. He didn’t like authority, liked to do his own thing,” Ridge-Howard said.
Blanchard once got drunk and took his father’s car, even though he didn’t have a license. He paid the price, spending time at the state’s Long Creek Youth Development Center.
“He’s been trying to straighten his act out,” his friend said. “He was a good kid.”
Blanchard told Haycock on Monday that he admired the way Ridge-Howard interacted with his 3-year-old son, and that he wanted to emulate that.
“I really believed this time he was going to step up and be their dad,” she said.
On Thursday, Haycock was bringing the children to a counselor to help them cope.
“My kids are hurting,” she said. “They have a lot of loss. I just want to be safe.”
Blanchard also had a daughter, Taylor, who lived with him at times, though not lately, Haycock said.
She and Blanchard became a couple when they were young teenagers. They lived together after high school but broke up when they were 19.
“When we were in school, he was like a bad-boy punk. That’s why I was attracted to him,” Haycock said. “He was really funny. He just had the best sense of humor, could joke about anything. That’s why everyone loved him.
“He was never really down until this past month,” she said, because of the death of Casey Green, 22, who was Blanchard’s girlfriend for the past several years.
Police say they believe Blanchard fell asleep at 2:30 a.m. on June 22 while driving Green’s car and it went off the road, hitting a tree.
“He didn’t take it well at all,” Ridge-Howard said. “He really wondered, ‘Why her, not me?’ especially because he was driving.”
He returned to his and Green’s apartment in Gray only once, and never went to the crash site, Ridge-Howard said.
Blanchard worked at Petco for a few years and did odd jobs, as well as doing roofing work for his father.
He went to Southern Maine Community College, studying heating and plumbing, and was planning a career as a plumber. He never thought he would go to college, but Green was attending and urged him to go, Ridge-Howard said.
Blanchard said he wanted a career, and wanted to provide for his family and avoid the cycle of misfortune that had befallen others in his family, Haycock said.
Ridge-Howard spent Sunday night at his house with Blanchard, Blanchard’s father and the three men who survived the shooting. Blanchard and the other three called themselves brothers, though they weren’t all biological brothers.
They had drinks, sat around a fire and watched wrestling on pay-per-view. “We just really had a good night,” Ridge-Howard. “It was really the first time the six of us had hung out in a long time.”
It was the last time he saw his friend.
Ridge-Howard grilled his nephew, John Howard, and the others about what happened early Wednesday.
“I asked them, ‘Did you guys start (something) and Matt got the end of it?’ They said they just walked into this bad situation. They said they didn’t hear a thing. It was a quiet night.
“The next thing you know, they were getting shot at,” Ridge-Howard said.
“Josh said he thought a Roman candle hit his arm. He didn’t know he was shot. There were sparks from bullets hitting the ground. Matt was hit. Johnny was hit,” Ridge-Howard said. “Whoever it was walked away like nothing happened.”
Blanchard’s family and friends are hoping to raise money for a funeral. A memorial fund has been set up. Contributions can be sent to: Matthew Blanchard Memorial Fund, care of Cathy Lestage, Evergreen Credit Union, P.O. Box 1038, 225 Riverside St., Portland, ME 04104.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: