The model of high-powered semi-automatic rifle allegedly used in the killings of 28 people, including 20 children, Friday in Newtown, Conn., was manufactured in Windham until last year.
Bushmaster AR-15 .223 rifles were produced at a plant on Roosevelt Trail before Bushmaster Firearms International LLC moved manufacturing operations out of state in March 2011.
That model, a commercial version of the military M-16, was used in the Washington, D.C. sniper shootings in 2002 that left 10 people dead and three wounded in Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, Alabama and D.C. Bushmaster paid $550,000 to the families of some of the victims to settle claims of negligent distribution of weapons. The company denied any wrongdoing in that case.
Bushmaster Firearms International was owned by Naples resident Richard Dyke, 79, who bought the bankrupt Bangor business for $241,000 in 1976 and moved it to Windham, making M-16 and AR-15 rifles popular with law enforcement agencies, private security firms, sportsmen and military. He sold it for $70 million in 2006 to Cerberus Capital Management, a New York private equity firm whose affiliates own Freedom Group of Madison N.C., Bushmaster’s parent company. A Cerberus spokesman did not return calls for comment Sunday.
Dyke and his family have been long-standing supporters of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Collins received more than $17,000 from Richard Dyke and his family members from 1996 to 2007, campaign finance records show.
Like many lawmakers from rural states, Collins has voted on both sides of gun control laws. Collins voted to extend the Brady Bill’s ban on assault weapons when it expired in 2004. She also supports instant background checks, but has voted against bills to require unlicensed sellers to conduct instant checks on buyers at gun shows. She also voted in 2002 to support a bill that would have shielded gun manufacturers from liability.
Several calls to Dyke at a home where his son said he was staying in Nevada were not returned Sunday afternoon.
When a reporter knocked at the home of Dyke’s son on Sebago Lake in Raymond on Sunday morning, Jeff Dyke declined to comment on the role the Bushmaster rifle may have played at the Connecticut elementary school. He did not return a follow-up call for comment Sunday afternoon.
Several other high-level managers at Windham Weaponry, the rifle company Richard and Jeff Dyke started with other investors after selling Bushmaster, also declined to comment when reached Sunday.
Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association Inc., said in a 2011 profile of Dyke in the Portland Press Herald that Dyke’s company had a reputation for excellent management and top products.
“They could not make enough of (the guns),” Weinstein said at the time.
The Bushmaster .223, a semi-automatic rifle that can accommodate a 30-round magazine, fires a bullet with each pull of the trigger at a speed of about 3,000 feet per second. Bushmaster is one of several companies that manufacture AR-15 semiautomatic rifles.
The New York Times reported last year after the Bushmaster acquisition that Cerberus has acquired other gun manufacturers and has made Freedom Group by far the largest long-gun manufacturer in the country. In a November 2011 story in the Times, the Freedom Group estimated it had sold 1.2 million long guns and 2.6 billion rounds of ammunition in the 12 months ended March 2010.
After the sale of Bushmaster, the Dykes and several investors started Windham Weaponry in 2011. They set up business in the former Bushmaster location in a complex of buildings in the Windham Business Park, behind Freedom Day Spa and A Loving Attachment Child Care center, and hired many of the 73 long-time Bushmaster employees who lost their jobs when that plant closed.
Windham Weaponry now makes high-end semi-automatic rifles, sometimes called black guns because of their color. The guns retail for about $1,000 to $1,600.
During the time Dyke owned Bushmaster, a Bushmaster .223 rifle manufactured at the Windham plant was used by Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who terrorized the Washington D.C. area in 2002.
Under Dyke’s ownership, Bushmaster paid $500,000 of the $2.5 million settlement, along with co-defendant Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply to some of the victims and families of victims. The company denied responsibility.
In the 2011 profile in the Press Herald, the senior Dyke, a Wilton native, said he grew up in a home without an indoor bathroom. His parents, wool and shoe factory workers, bathed the children in a tin tub in the sink.
Dyke attended Wilton Academy and spent a year at what was then Husson College before joining the Army’s 108th Counter Intelligence Corps in South Korea and Iceland. Dyke bought into about 60 different businesses over the years, including a perfume company, a lumberyard and communications companies.
In the 2011 interview, Dyke said gun makers face unique and unavoidable challenges.
“Every time somebody is shot, you hold your breath,” he said.
Weinstein described Dyke as a “man of high integrity” in the 2011 profile.
Staff writers Kevin Miller and Jessica Hall contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at: